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You have the power to make an ocean of difference

Strange to think that plastic has only been part of our everyday lives since the Second World War. Before that, people stored their jams or bought their milk in glass bottles. Today plastic is used in just about everything, from cars to yoghurt containers. Which is not a problem in itself. But it can become a problem when you try to get rid of it. Because inevitably, plastic ends up in our oceans.

Over 80 per cent of marine debris – the man-made rubbish that floats on the surface of the ocean – is plastic. And it won’t biodegrade, or even break down, in water.

If you’ve been following the reports about plastic pollution in our oceans, you’ll know that the amount has been increasing exponentially. You could even say it’s ‘ballooning’.

So you can imagine my dismay when I read about plans to release tens of thousands of balloons at two high profile events later this month.

The balloons generally fly up to a height of about five miles before they freeze and burst, after which their remains fall back down to the surface of the earth – or, more likely in the case of a coastal release, into the sea.

To a fish or a marine bird, a spent balloon looks a lot like food. Too many of those balloon bits end up in the bellies of turtles or albatrosses.

The events which I refer to were planned in the UK. Both events were by organisations I admire and respect, and both of them have close ties to the sea.

As soon as I read about the Weymouth branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Association’s plan to release thousands of balloons as a publicity fundraiser, I sent them a tweet. I thanked them for the crucial work they do, and asked them to please find a way to raise funds that didn’t pollute the ocean. They did.

No sooner had I thanked them for their swift action than I discovered that Cunard Line planned to release 10,000 balloons to celebrate 10 years of their flagship Queen Mary 2 in Southampton – watched over by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Now, I’ve got nothing against celebrations. But our lovely commemorative moments needn’t have long-lasting negative implications. They shouldn’t require thousands of balloons ending up in the seas.

My tweet to them said simply: “Please don’t release 10,000 balloons. It pollutes the oceans.” I wasn’t alone. Other voices joined mine as the tweets went viral. Cunard heard us and have agreed to cut balloons out of the programme.

The point is, we have the power to change things. We are not voiceless. And we should never underestimate how the tide of public opinion can bring about real and meaningful change.

Twitter is an immensely powerful tool. It can effect change by igniting the public imagination, and it can force companies to do things responsibly.

So if you see something that you feel is wrong, that could be done better or differently, speak out.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

But our lives also become so much richer when we use the power of our collective voice to make a positive difference.

Author: Lewis Pugh is an ocean advocate, a pioneer swimmer and an inspirational speaker. In 2010 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and in 2013 he was appointed Patron of the Oceans by the United Nations Environment Programme. http://lewispugh.com