Why Defending Our Oceans, Rivers and Lakes Is Saving Ourselves
WRITTEN by: STARRE VARTAN
We’ve all heard the statistic that we are 60% water, and it’s an amazing thing to imagine; as we move around the world, over half of us is necessarily H2O, which keeps our blood flowing, our kidneys and liver processing toxins, and our brain synapses communicating their millions of messages a day. (The brain itself is 70% water.)
Like our brain, the Earth’s surface is covered by 70% water, mostly in the form of our beautiful oceans; only 3% of all water is the fresh kind that we need to survive. Yet not only are our fresh water resources threatened by pollution, but due to human-caused climate change, hot and dry ecosystems are getting hotter and drier, and wet places are seeing deluges more often, all of which further strains water resources.
Despite the facts – that we are made of water, and that it is an ever-more polluted and precious resource, many of us don’t even know where our water comes from, or where our watersheds are. Do you? If you don’t, pull that atlas off your shelf, or easier yet, Google your town or city’s name and ‘watershed’ – geologists or county officials have this information available to the public. You’ll probably be fascinated by what you find – both where your water comes from, where it goes, and how interconnected the systems are.
For instance, I live on the Connecticut shoreline, and so my nearest big body of water is, of course, the Long Island Sound. But my watershed – where the water I drink, bathe, and cook in – as well as water my veggie garden (sparingly!) comes from, starts in small springs in towns near the New York border, gradually accumulating into streams, and then the Norwalk River, which feeds into the Sound (and provides nutrients to oyster beds on its way out). That means that whatever pesticides and herbicides are used on lawns, gardens and farms, and whatever else the people do in my watershed dump down their drains eventually affects me. Getting to know where your water comes from immediately connects you to all those people who live up- and down-river from your home, and also helps you to understand how natural systems work together.
But, you say, my water gets filtered and treated by my town, so I don’t have to worry about it.
Yes, water filtration is effective in some ways, but it’s not enough, and prevention is more important. Some interesting facts: Recent research suggests that SSRI’s and other psychoactive drugs found in the low doses commonly found in waterways can create autism-like reactions in susceptible river fish (those that have a genetic predisposition to it). Other studies have found that estrogen and other hormones, as well as industrial chemicals that act like hormones, pass through most water filtration systems into the water we drink, and might be behind higher incidences of reproductive issues, cancers and other health problems. Because these drugs and chemicals have been in our water supplies for relatively short time periods and are not well studied in the context of highly diluted concentrations, we don’t really know what effect they might have on our health. But we do know that in some circumstances, the fact that they are mixing together might mean they have a greater impact on our bodies than each compound would alone. And even when these chemicals are tested, they are never tested in tandem with other substances.
The Precautionary Principle is the idea that in the cases where we don’t know the impact of our actions, or of chemicals and substances, or whatever is in question, that we should err on the side of caution. Unfortunately, government regulations work the other way – something has to be proven to be harmful- which is often difficult to do and takes time (think about the 30 years it took to ‘prove’ that smoking causes cancer) before it is outlawed or regulated. So solving some of our problems comes down to individual action and education.
Where can you start, if you want to protect our waterways – and the health of you and your family? As Susan Rockefeller’s gorgeous and informative recent documentary film, all about the global ocean crisis “Mission of Mermaids” suggests, there are several ways you can have a direct impact on ocean health.
Refuse single use plastics. That includes water bottles, plastic bags, and disposable cutlery. Bringing your own reusable versions of all these things is easy.
Buy sustainable seafood and fish. Keep a pocket guide with you when shopping, or better yet, ask your fishmonger where your food is coming from. Whole Foods’ fish counter has a comprehensive fish and seafood rating system, as well as strict policies in place for what they do buy.
Some good ways to protect fresh water resources include:
Don’t flush prescription medications down the toilet – those meds will end up dissolved in our waterways. Throw them in the trash instead.
Plant native plants in your landscaping – they will use less water and as a bonus, will feed and house local birds and beneficial insects.
Use natural cleaning and beauty and personal care products (like those in CocoEco’s “Beauty Editor Picks”). Remember, everything that you flush down the toilet, or wash down that drain goes into our streams, lakes and oceans, and becomes the water we drink and goes into the bodies of the animals and fish we eat.