Turning the Tide-How Latinos Hold the Solution to Marine Plastic Pollution | Opinion

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The ocean, vast and seemingly infinite, has been humanity’s dumping ground for plastic waste. With 171 trillion pieces of plastic amounting to 1 million to 1.7 million tons currently floating in it, this crisis threatens marine life and impacts the health of our planet and ourselves. Yet, amid this seemingly unsolvable and worsening challenge lies a potential solution that gets overlooked: the power of the Latino community. With a deep connection to the ocean and a culture rooted in conservation, Latinos hold the key to combating marine plastic pollution and safeguarding the ocean.
The ramifications of marine plastic pollution are profound, affecting both marine wildlife and human populations. From entanglement and ingestion to habitat destruction, marine plastic wreaks havoc on the delicate balance of ocean ecosystems. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, seabirds feed plastic to their chicks, and countless marine mammals suffer from the effects of ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris. About 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean.
Moreover, plastic pollution poses a threat to human health as it breaks down into smaller particles and makes its way into the food chain as microplastics. Every week, humans ingest 5 grams of plastic, which is equivalent to eating a credit card. The tiniest pieces can cross cell membranes and get into the bloodstream and organs. Plastic has even been found in the human brain, breast milk, and placenta. According to the National Institutes of Health, plastics may accumulate in the body and trigger an immune response or cause adverse health effects such as respiratory issues, skin irritation, or even systemic toxicity.
A photo taken on Dec. 8, 2022, in Vaasa, Finland, shows plastic pieces in frozen water. A photo taken on Dec. 8, 2022, in Vaasa, Finland, shows plastic pieces in frozen water. OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images
Currently, 80 percent of marine debris is plastic, and because marine plastic production is expected to more than double by 2040, marine plastic pollution will quadruple by 2050. People fail to realize the extent of plastic pollution and its severe implications because much of it remains hidden beneath the ocean’s surface, making the issue invisible from beaches and boats. Beach cleanups help, but are nowhere near enough. Educational initiatives regarding plastic pollution are limited, relying heavily on social media influencers and a handful of nonprofit organizations. A significant portion of the population doesn’t have access to coastal areas, making them feel disconnected from the ocean and marine pollution, further diminishing their sense of responsibility toward addressing the issue. And alternatives to plastic not produced from fossil fuels, such as biodegradable materials, often come with higher production costs, making them economically unfeasible for widespread adoption.
So, will we be able to reduce marine plastic pollution, knowing that recycling serves better as a marketing gimmick to blame the consumer for the pollution, and with the fossil fuel industries controlling legislators’ agendas via election campaign donations? We will if we tap into the social capital that the predominately white and exclusive environmental conservation movement has failed to do and empower Latinos so they join in.
Latino culture has a deep connection to and respect for nature. Environmental conservation is already engrained culturally. Most Latinos live near the coast and are the demographic group most worried about the future of nature; 86 percent agree that plastic pollution poses a health risk, and 80 percent support the banning of single-use plastics. Seventy-one percent of Latino voters in the West say that microplastics are an extremely or very serious issue. Latinos are the demographic group that gives the most importance to environmental issues when deciding whether to support an elected public official or not. With 62.1 million (18.9 percent of the U.S. population), Latinos are the second largest demographic group and the fastest-growing demographic, accounting for 54 percent of the U.S. population growth. Their participation in efforts to reduce marine plastic pollution is crucial. This is why Hispanic Access Foundation hosts the annual Latino Conservation Week and Latino Advocacy Week, and releases a series of toolkits to elevate and empower Latino community leaders to effectively participate in community decision-making, advocacy, and the legislative process.
In harnessing the commitment of the Latino community, we hold a powerful ally in the fight against marine plastic pollution. Latinos stand poised to play a pivotal role in safeguarding our oceans. By empowering Latino voices, advocating for inclusive policies, and fostering community engagement, we can forge a path toward a cleaner, healthier future for our oceans and all of us who depend on them. Let us embrace this opportunity to unite in solidarity, leveraging the collective power of diverse perspectives and experiences to confront the daunting challenge of marine plastic pollution. The time to act is now. Together, we can make a difference.
Sofia Barboza is a marine conservation expert and the ocean manager at Hispanic Access Foundation.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

webintern@dakdan.com

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