All rivers run to the sea

“Where does the water in the drains go to mum?” asked my youngest boy one day. It was raining, and he was watching the water run down the channels on the side of the road.  We were on our way to school when he came up with that question, so we had a brief conversation about the difference between stormwater and household waste water, and how the water that ran down the drains on the road went into the storm water system and straight into the streams and sea.

I showed him the stormwater catchpit at his school, which has a great plaque next to it:

Stormwater sump

It also gave me an opportunity to teach him how it important it was that rubbish and chemical pollution didn’t get washed into those drains, because it all ended up in the sea, polluting it and killing and harming aquatic life.

Remembering this conversation prompted me to look at exploring another way to give back to the sea:  by ensuring that our water is as clean as possible before it gets to the sea.  It’s true that not every river runs to the sea, but the vast majority of them do.

Here are just a few of the simple things that can be done to sustain the sea.  I thought I’d share them here because I didn’t know about some of these until recently, and others I thought didn’t make much difference until I tried, and then saw how much it was needed.

  • Don’t wash detergents (eg car or driveway washing) or pour chemicals down stormwater inlets. The detergents and/or chemicals will wash down the drain and straight into the streams and sea, where they will kill both freshwater and marine life.  Instead, take your car to a car wash where the water can go to a treatment plant, and take unwanted chemicals to safe disposal centres.
  • Pick up that discarded can, plastic bag or plastic bottle sitting in the gutter (quite problematic on rubbish collection days around here), and put it in the rubbish.  It will stop it from being washed into the stormwater system and onwards to the sea.  I am so thankful that we don’t have the situation here like in Hong Kong for example, where swimming in the sea meant the unavoidable experience of plastic bags brushing against your legs like a swarm of jellyfish.
  • Engage in a beach cleaning day.  I am always surprised at how many bags of rubbish get picked up, even from beaches that look clean.  The less junk in the sea, the less potential to harm marine life and leach pollution.
  • Plant more plants and have less non-porous surfaces (eg. concrete) around the home.  This acts as a natural ‘sink’ to prevent excess pollutants entering the storm water system during heavy rain.

Ultimately, everything we do ends up affecting the health of the sea (read on below to see why I say this).  If we can help to nurture the sea from the land, that would be something wouldn’t it?

Here are a couple of links to more information:

Natural Resources Defence Council – Water

Preventing Water Pollution from your home

As I delved into this topic, I also learned of a new thing I hadn’t been aware of until this week:  Ocean acidification.  Why is it important?  I urge you to watch this short video. To put it lightly, the message is critical.  I feel very concerned that I hadn’t known about this before.  Why aren’t there more news articles about this?

Then questions started to form in my head.  How can the ocean become acidic? Isn’t it alkaline given it’s salty?  And how does the addition of carbon dioxide to sea water make acid?  Fortunately, I found all the answers: here and here and here are a few links to helpful information if you want to read them (just google ‘ocean acidification’ and you’ll find more).

The essential points are that the ocean absorbs a huge amount of the carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere (between 25 – 50% depending on the sources you read).  We used to think this was a good thing, until scientists recently realised that when carbon dioxide dissolves into sea water, it forms carbonic acid, locking up calcium that is needed by marine life to form their shells.  This chemical reaction also lowers the pH balance of the sea, which is now 30% less alkaline than it should be (hence, acidification).  The more acidic sea water is already starting to dissolve the shells of sea creatures and prevent their effective reproduction as the lower pH damages and kills the young.  If we think of all the marine life that has a shell – from coral, to the tiniest plankton and krill (that form the essential food base of so many fish and sea mammals), to the crabs, oysters and shellfish that we all like to eat, the implications to the food chain and balance of life in the ocean are immense. Predictions are that in 40 years, the sea could have become so acidic that coral reefs will cease to exist and mass extinctions will occur.

Don’t we have a solution? I wondered.  Indeed, there is – use less fossil fuels, as we all know.  I also read some interesting research that indicates that fish play an important part in the re-calcification of the sea.  Apparently, all bony fish excrete calcium carbonate pellets as a by-product of “drinking” sea water.  When excreted, these calcium carbonate pellets dissolve, putting calcium back in the sea.  This is yet another reason why we should be leaving more fish in the sea.

Indeed, all “rivers” run to the sea, and I am ever more convinced, as I delve into how we can sustain the sea, that it is critical to do more than we ever have thought necessary to do.

Watch out for the Tidal hat tomorrow.

Tidal hat

3 thoughts on “All rivers run to the sea

  1. The hat looks tantalizing. I’ve been on a hat knitting jag recently and right now I am knitting the tidepool hat, ran link, which goes well with your theme. I think your hat might be the next one up on my needles.

    I live near the Chesapeake Bay, which suffers hugely from pollution so your suggestions are pertinent to me too. Thanks.

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