The History of Fast Fashion

Green leaf poking out of a jean pocket, representing sustainable fashion. Shared by Ocean Generation.

A brief history of fast fashion and its impact on the planet. 

100 billion items of clothing are produced every year. That’s a 50% growth in just 15 years and the main culprit for this growth – fast fashion – shows little sign of slowing down. 

We’ve stitched together a brief history of fast fashion; from when fashion become fast, the impact it’s had on our blue planet, and what we can do to become sustainable fashion devotees.  

First: What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion can be defined as low-cost, trendy clothing rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.  

The focus of fast fashion is affordability and convenience – largely at the cost of people and the planet.  

Fast fashion plays into the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux pas. If you want to stay relevant, it’s believed you should be sporting the latest looks while they’re happening.  

Overproduction and overconsumption has resulted in the fashion industry being one of the world’s largest polluters. Jump here to read about the environmental impact of fast fashion.  

But how did we get here?  

Definition of fast fashion: Fast fashion is low-cost, trendy clothing rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Fast fashion has a massive impact on our planet. Ocean Generation is sharing a brief history of fast fashion.

Once upon a time, in a slow fashion world

More than 20,000 years ago, people began hand sewing; using animal bones and horns as needles.  

Up until the early 1800’s, most people raised sheep or saved up to purchase wool to spin yarn to weave cloth and hand sew… You get the idea. 

Adding garments to your closet was a slow, infrequent process, driven by seasonal changes and growing pains. 

When was the first sewing machine invented?

It was only in 1830 – during the Industrial Revolution – that the fast fashion story really starts with the invention of the sewing machine. 

Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor, invented a sewing machine that used a hooked needle and one thread to create a chain stitch (which is still commonly used in denim jeans). 

The first sewing machine was invented in 1830 by
Barthelemy Thimonnier. It had a hooked needle and created a chain stitch, which is still used on jeans today. Shared by Ocean Generation in the history of the fashion industry article.

With the advent of the sewing machine, clothes became easier, quicker, and cheaper to make. Clothing began to be made in bulk, in various sizes, rather than just being made to order. 

Dressmaking shops emerged to cater to the middle classes and – for the first time – people started wearing clothing for style, not just practical reasons.  

The fashion industry used to be slow. Sweatshops were the beginning of the end of that.

Shared by Ocean Generation this is a sweatshop of Mr. Goldstein, 30 Suffolk Street, New York City, photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine, February, 1908

What is a sweatshop?

Sweatshops are factories or workshops, especially in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at low wages for long hours and poor (or downright illegal) working conditions. 

To cater to the demand for clothing, sweatshops emerged in the 1800’s (and don’t be fooled: They still exist today.) 

“Fast fashion isn’t free. 
Someone, somewhere,  is paying.” 
Quote by Lucy Siegle regarding the fashion industry. In the image, an asian woman wears pink gloves poised under her chin.

Clothing becomes a form of personal expression: 1960s

By the 1960s and 1970s, young people were creating new trends and using clothing as a form of personal expression. 

There was increasing demand for affordable clothing. Textile mills opened across the developing world, and low-quality, mass-produced clothing took over.  

Shopping for new clothes became a hobby and a means of social status.  

When was the term fast fashion coined? 

In 1990, the New York Times published an article using the term ‘fast fashion’ for the first time. The piece was about a new fashion retailer with a mission to transform a garment – from an idea in the designer’s brain to being sold on racks in store – in only 15 days.  

This was the first article ever published using the term fast fashion. In 1990, the New York Times published an article about Zara stores coming to New York. Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of fast fashion on the planet.

It’s safe to say fast fashion had arrived.  

By the mid-1990s, online shopping took off – accelerating what was already a dizzying rate of textile consumption.  

No matter where you are in the world, chances are: If you see an outfit you like, online, you can buy it and have it on your doorstep in days. But at what cost?  

Two sets of socked feet are up in the air. One pair of feet is wearing green socks and the other is wearing mustard yellow socks. They are both wearing white strappy high heels and blue jeans.

Being fashionable shouldn’t cost the earth.  

All areas of fast fashion – super speedy production, use of synthetic fibres and dangerous chemicals, and competitive pricing – have massive negative impacts on our blue planet and the people involved in garment manufacturing.  

What’s more: Rapidly changing trends and clothing available at shockingly cheap prices instils a throw-away culture; as though clothing isn’t meant to be long-lasting or worn more than a few times.  

5 fast facts about fashion’s environmental impact.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

We’ve hardly touched on overconsumption, water usage, waste and haven’t even mentioned microplastics yet.  Read more about the impact of textiles on people and the planet.

Woman breaking through a piece of clear plastic with her hands. Learn about plastic pollution with Ocean Generation.

How does fast fashion impact the Ocean?  

Textiles in the fashion industry generally fit into two categories: Natural and synthetic.  

Natural materials (like wool and cotton) are made from plant and animal sources. They tend to be more expensive and last longer.  

Fast fashion relies on the cheaper (less, environmentally friendly) option: Synthetic materials. You’ll recognise these plastic-based materials in your clothing: Polyester, acrylic, and nylon. 

Synthetic fibres make up almost 60% of annual fibre consumption. Said differently: Our clothes are around 60% plastic. 

More than ever, our clothes are made of plastic. Just washing them can pollute the Ocean.  

Rainbow over the Ocean. It's like the Ocean is a pot of gold and really: it is. Our Ocean provides us with many resources and produces half the oxygen on Earth. Learn about the Oceans with Ocean Generation.

These synthetic fibres produce non-biodegradable waste that pollute the Ocean. How? A single 6kg laundry load releases up to 700,000 synthetic microfibres which pass through our drains and into our Ocean. 

Once in the Ocean, microfibres are ingested by Ocean life and end up making their way back up the food chain, to us, and pose numerous health risks.  

We can put fast fashion out of style.  

More and more, consumers are demanding sustainable clothing and calling out the true cost of the fashion industry. As a result, we’re starting to see some changes in the fashion industry, but there’s a long way to go.  

As recently as 2018, the fashion industry produced ~2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. Luckily for us, we can all directly influence the fashion industry and the impact it has.

As individuals, the first thing we need to tackle is our relationship with consumerism. 

Asian woman surrounded by a pile of clothing. Just her face showing amongst all the clothing and textiles. This photo represents the overconsumption in the fashion industry.

“What can I do to tackle fast fashion?” 

  • Continue to learn about how to spot fast fashion brands (then steer clear of them). 
  • Embrace buying less fast fashion items. (In a week or two, that item will be out of fashion anyway, right?) 
  • When you do shop for clothing, ensure you’re purchasing with long-term wear in mind. 
  • Support responsible, ethical clothing brands.  
  • Buy second hand. 
  • Only wash your clothes when they’re actually dirty.  
  • Be an outfit repeater (re-wear your clothing until it really is end-of-life). 
  • Repurpose clothing when they’re end-of-life. 
  • Remember that the most sustainable piece of clothing you have is the one already in your closet
  • Join the Wavemaker Programme for tools to accelerate your social actions. 
  • Subscribe to our newsletter for Ocean news, stories, and science.  

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The History of Climate Change

A century of climate science history: Explained.

These days, you can’t go a week without the impacts of climate change making headlines – but that wasn’t always the case. When climate science first appeared in the media, it was batched with conspiracy theories and radical ideas.  

Now, we know better.

We’re hopping in a time machine to unpack the history of climate change, greenhouse gasses, global warming, and why climate skeptism existed for so long. 

When did climate science first make the news

Over a hundred years ago (hello, 1912), the Titanic set sail and sank, zippers were invented, Oreos were created. And Breaking News: Climate change entered the news for the first time.  

This caption appeared in the March 1912 publication of ‘Popular Mechanics’, directly linking burning coal and global temperature change: 

Snapshot of a caption that appeared in the March 1912 publication of ‘Popular Mechanics’, directly linking burning coal and global temperature change.

Several months later, on 14 August 1912, a paper in New Zealand re-shared the now-famous caption. They titled it: “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate.”

But before these publications, fundamental climate science was already understood.  

On 14 August 1912, a paper in New Zealand re-shared a now-famous caption titled: “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate.” 

Burning coal and climate change, for the first time, were linked in the media. Shared bY ocean Generation experts in Ocean health and inclusive environmental learning.

Scientists understood how greenhouse gasses contributed to rising temperatures in 1856.

What is the greenhouse gas effect and who discovered it? 

The greenhouse gas effect is how heat is trapped close to the Earth’s surface. Trapped by what? Greenhouse gas molecules like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.  

John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, is commonly miscredited with discovering the greenhouse effect.  

In 1856 (three years before Tyndall’s work was published), Eunice Foote, an American scientist, concluded certain gasses warm when exposed to sunlight. She concluded that rising carbon dioxide levels would lead to atmospheric changes, which could impact the climate.  

Human activity was suggested as the main driver of climate change in 1896.

Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, suggested that as humanity burned fossil fuels (non-renewable energy sources like coal, crude oil and petroleum), which added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, we’d raise the planet’s average temperature. 

Over 100 years ago, the science was there. Why does it feel like we’re only waking up now? 

Climate science wasn’t accepted by the public.

We can point to these news articles and research pieces and say, “It’s been a century! Why was nothing done?” But climate change began on the fringe of society. The science – and these scientists – weren’t taken seriously.  

“Humans? Impacting the planet? No way!” – someone in 1912, probably.  

Turning our backs on fossil fuels, which were building the modern world, seemed outlandish. When the world went to war in 1914, the topic lost momentum and only picked up again in the 1930’s. 

Ocean Generation is sharing the history of climate change. In this image, which is horizontally split in two, two sets of hands hold symbols of the modern world: a light bulb and a globe of Earth. The bottom image is of smoke rising from a factory, symbolising the connection between burning fossil fuels and the modern world.

The origin of global warming.

In 1938, Guy Callendar caused a stir in the science world when he put together weather observations and concluded that global average temperatures had already increased. 

Callendar was the first person to clearly identify a warming trend and connect it to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He was shunned by the science community for his research which became known as “the Callendar Effect.”  

Today, we just call it global warming. 

How does climate change impact our Ocean? 

The Ocean absorbs much of the sun’s heat which helps regulate land temperature and drive global weather patterns. More than 90% of the heat from global warming is stored in our Ocean. That makes the Ocean one of the most important carbon sinks on Earth.  

But this continual heat absorption is changing the characteristics of the Ocean. (Spoiler: not in a good way). Those changes have massive impacts on all life on Earth. 

Scroll: The 7 climate change indicators we’re seeing in the Ocean. 

How does climate change impact the Ocean? Ocean Generation has the answers. In this horizontally split image half is made up by an orange sunset, in the bottom image a scene under the Ocean is captured: there are vibrant corals and clown fish.

Why was climate scepticism so strong for so long?  

Scientific coverage in the media that pointed to the reality we all know now – that human activity is a key driver of climate change – was often published alongside pieces that were sceptical of such facts. 

As recently as 2003, it was covered that global warming amplified death tolls in the 2003 European Heatwave. In the same year, at a speech given on the US Senate floor, a former Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee called climate change, “The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”  

With contradicting statements everywhere, people believed that the jury was out on climate change. We know better. 

The best time to take climate action was in 1912.

The second-best time is right now and every day from now. Because the history of climate change is just that: History.

Each decision we take, today, tomorrow, in three weeks or four years, sets up the future health of our blue planet.  

A hand reaching out above a body of water. The hand's reflection looms below. Shared by Ocean Generation.

Actions you can take to fight climate change.

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The Ocean is turning green because of climate change

Breathtaking image of an Ocean wave breaking. The wave has a green hue. In this article, Ocean Generation explains why our Ocean is turning green because of climate change.

Over 56% of the Ocean is turning green.

More than half of our Ocean has changed colour in the last 20 years, turning more green than blue. (That’s more than Earth’s total land area.) The culprit? Climate change.

Nature published a study in July ’23 that analysed two decades of research which we’ve translated into a 5 minute read about why the Ocean is changing colour and why we should care.

More than half of the Ocean is turning green. It's changed colour in the last 20 years, becoming more green than blue. That's more than Earth's total land area. The culprit is climate change. Ocean Generation has translated the report into an easy read.

Why is the Ocean turning green?

Colour shifts in the Ocean happen for many reasons, like when light bounces off of particles (like plastic) and sediments in the water.

Phytoplankton (micro-algae) is the main reason the Ocean has a naturally green hue because it contains chlorophyll, like all terrestrial plants.

But phytoplankton is more than a just splash of colour. It’s the base of most Oceanic food chains, the main producer of our oxygen, and stores the bulk of our carbon.

So, shifts in Ocean colour aren’t really about the colour. We care about the colour shifts because they’re indicative of changes happening in important surface-level ecosystems.

How is the Ocean’s colour shift linked to climate change?

Good question. Tracking how changes in climate impact our Ocean can be challenging because of the sheer scale of our Ocean. So, often, time-series data is used to measure trends over long periods.

For this study, 20 years of observations from June 2002 to June 2022 by Nasa’s Modis-Aqua satellite were used.

By studying wavelengths of sunlight reflected off our Ocean’s surface, the scientists tracked the fluctuations in greenness (basically: How much phytoplankton is living near the Ocean’s surface, based on estimates of how much chlorophyll there is).

Satellite image of phytoplankton populations from space. Phytoplankton is a micro-algae but so important to all life on our planet. Ocean Generation shares the importance of this Ocean-surface ecosystem.

Of course, phytoplankton populations have natural fluctuations.
To assess the connection to climate change, researchers created a computer model.

The model measured how phytoplankton populations may respond to increases in greenhouse gases (without the natural variations).

The results (between reality and the only-climate-driven-changes model) matched almost exactly, prooving:

Oceanic plant populations (measured by the green they’re adding to the Oceans colour palette) can indicate climate health.

What’s the impact of a greener Ocean?

It all comes back to the phytoplankton.

If the health of phytoplankton is impacted, there are implications relating to:

  • Our Ocean ‘s ability to store carbon;
  • The entire Ocean food chain (and thus, ours);
  • Balance in the biogeochemical cycle (AKA: the water cycle, nitrogen cycle, etc).

We say it all the time. We mean it every time: A healthy Ocean is essential for all life on Earth.

Ocean Generation shares why a healthy Ocean is essential for all life on Earth. Image of a man floating on his back in the Ocean.

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10 Ocean actions from the Ocean Generation team

Hand cupping water presumably from the Ocean.

Every decision we make has an environmental impact

This means everyone can do something (or more than one something) to make our planet a bluer, healthier place to call home.

Our Ocean plays a critical role in regulating the climate and absorbing carbon emissions – most notably, through blue carbon ecosystems. So, taking Ocean action is in the best interest of all life on Earth.

Ocean action is climate action.

We asked the team at Ocean Generation – from those in our science team; to our founder, Jo Ruxton MBE; to those who manage our youth engagement programmes – to share the ways they take Ocean and climate action each day.

10 daily actions our team of Ocean lovers takes to protect the Ocean:

1) Omit unnecessary car travel

10 ways you can take action to fight climate change. Tip: Omit unnecessary car travel.

2) Don’t pour cooking oil down the drain

Ocean health tip from Ocean generation: Don't pour cooking oil down the drain.

3) The best way to take Ocean action? Educate your inner circle about how important our Ocean is.

10 ways you can protect the Ocean shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Educate the people around you about the importance of the Ocean.

Wondering where to start?
Incredible Ocean facts for you:

4) Shop second-hand

Sustainable living tip: Shop second hand and rethink your relationship with fast fashion.

5) Be a mindful toilet flusher

Ocean action tip: Don't flush anything down the drain besides toilet paper and bodily fluids. What goes down the drain ends up in the Ocean.

6) Share what you love about the Ocean with others

You can connect with the Ocean by visiting it in person or using digital means to explore the depths under the sea.

Fun fact: 2.5 billion people live within 100km of the coast. But, of course, not everyone can take a dip in the Ocean every day.

What you can do from afar is go on a virtual Oceanic expedition. Dive into Ocean ecosystems across the world on Google.

7) Say no to wet-wipes

Ocean protection tip: Say no to wet wipes. They don't degrade!

8) Integrate environmentalism into your career

10 ways you can fight climate change shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Integrate environmentalism into your career and start talking about climate at work.

Easy ways to incorporate environmentalism into your work-life:

  • Bring the Ocean’s health and welfare of the planet into conversation.
  • Can you promote a paperless office?
  • How about suggesting old devices get recycled instead of tossed?
  • Try suggesting the use glasses instead of styrofoam cups at your next meeting or conference.
  • Send e-cards during the festive season and for birthdays – you can even donate the price of a paper card to a cause you care about.

9) Make these easy plastic swaps – and then swear off unnecessary plastic items forever.

Protect the Ocean by committing to never using a plastic straw, bottle or cup again. There are so many eco-alternatives out there.

At Ocean Generation, we promote an inclusive approach to sustainability. We recognise that zero-waste, plastic-free, vegan, and zero-carbon lifestyles don’t work for everyone – and that’s okay. The world needs all of us to do what we can, within our means.

But in saying that, it’s also important to recognise that too many of us still use single-use plastics too easily. When did you last purchase a plastic bottle, a take-out coffee mug or use a single-use plastic straw?

Most single-use plastic items are unnecessary. There are (excuse the pun) an Ocean of eco-alternatives available.

It’s time to break up with unnecessary plastic. Identify what unnecessary single-use plastic you use. ✅ Make the switch to eco-alternatives. ✅ Commit to never going back. ✅

10) Do your best to take environmental action daily, and accept that ‘your bestlooks different for everyone.

10 ways you can fight climate change and protect the Ocean shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Do your best to take environmental action and recognise that your best and someone elses best look different. We don't have to take the same action to make a positive difference.

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15 Climate actions you can take to restore the Ocean’s health 

15 simple actions you can take to fight climate change and protect the Ocean, shared by Ocean Generation. Dark blue, foamy wave washing onto a beach.

What can I do about climate change?”

We’re regularly asked for practical climate actions. Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do to look after our blue planet.  

Every decision we make – from what we eat to how we move to the clothes we wear – has an environmental impact. But when faced with fear-mongering headlines and science-backed alarm bells that we’re reaching a climate tipping point, individual actions don’t feel like enough.  

Do individual climate actions actually make a difference?  

Yes. Think about it: Swapping out your plastic straw for a metal one may not feel like much, but if everyone in Europe did the same, 701 tonnes of plastic could be prevented from entering the environment every year.  

Collectively, individual actions are powerful propellers of positive change.  

The image is cut horizontally down the middle. The top image is four men and woman dressed for work in suits and coats, holding briefcases. The bottom image is of a bright yellow fish in an organge coral in the sea. Shared by Ocean Generation.

Why should the Ocean have a seat at climate conversations?  

The Ocean is a powerful climate change mitigator.

Here’s 3 ways our Ocean mitigates the impacts of climate change: 

  • The Ocean absorbs 90% of excess heat from our climate system, making it an impressive heat sink. In fact, the Ocean is the largest heat sink on Earth. 
  • 30% of human-made carbon emissions are absorbed by our Ocean.  
  • The Ocean plays a major role in climate adaption. (Said differently: the Ocean supports our planet’s adjustment to the effects of climate change, for example, through blue carbon ecosystems).  

But as much as our Ocean tackles climate change, it is also directly affected by it. (Read: Ways climate change impacts Ocean health.)

When we take climate action, we are simultaneously taking Ocean action and vice versa.  

From reducing your use of single-use plastics to addressing your carbon footprint, there are many effective ways to make a positive difference.

Here are 15 climate actions you can take to restore the Ocean’s health: 

1) Skip single-use coffee cups

Many of us start our day with a cup of coffee on the go. It’s a comforting routine that sets the tone for the rest of the day. 

If all of Europe made the switch from single-use plastic cups to eco-friendly alternatives, we’d prevent 1,500 tonnes of plastic waste a year.

Hand holding a reusable coffee cup, shared by Ocean Generation. The accompanying text says 'if all of Europe made the switch to eco-friendly cups, we'd prevent 1,500 tonnes of plastic waste a year.'

2) Understand the main 5 human-made threats the Ocean faces 

We can’t restore the health of the Ocean if we don’t understand what threatens it.

The UN released a 2,000-page document breaking down the various threats our Ocean faces. Understandably, most people don’t have the time (or desire) to read it. So, we transformed it into 5 easy-to-follow articles about Ocean threats. 

3) “What is my climate footprint?” 

Your carbon footprint is the measure of greenhouse gases produced by your daily activities.  

This includes things like driving a car, using electricity, the emissions linked to what you wear, and even eating food.  

When we understand our carbon footprint, we can shift our behaviours for the better. Here’s an online carbon footprint calculator (we can’t endorse any resource as ‘the most accurate measure of your CO2 footprint’ but this will give you a rough idea of your environmental impact).  

It’s important to remember that carbon emission world averages distort the unequal emissions in developed and developing countries. So, it’s helpful to compare your carbon footprint to your national average to assess where you stand. 

4) The food on your plate makes an environmental impact  

One third of carbon emissions comes from food production.  

What you eat tends to matter more than whether it’s produced locally or not, when it comes to decreasing your carbon footprint.  Read: Is locally sourced food better for the environment? 

General tips: Reduce your consumption of high-emission foods like meat and dairy in favour of seasonal fruits and vegetables and snacks that have negative emissions. 

5) Put your money where your heart is: Divest from fossil fuels 

Are your monetary investments benefiting the planet? Divesting from fossil fuels means taking your money out of the hands of the fossil fuel industry, which contributes significantly to carbon emissions and climate change.  

You can start by checking your bank and investment accounts and moving your money to institutions that don’t invest in fossil fuels. Even small divestments make a difference. 

Microplastics on a black background. Ocean Generation is sharing climate actions we can all take.

6) Avoid products with microbeads 

Microbeads are small plastic beads often found in beauty and personal care products. These tiny pieces of plastic easily slip down our drains, through water treatment plants and into the Ocean. 

Most of us purchase products – facial scrubs, toothpaste, nail polish, and abrasive household cleaning products – without realising they contain microbeads.  

Quick solution to the microbead problem: Check ingredient lists and front labels. Microbeads and polyethylene are often listed on packaging, making them easy to avoid. 

7) Think before you toss your clothes into the laundry 

Every time we do an average laundry load of 6kg, 700,000 fibres can be released into our waterways. Before you put something in the washing basket, consider if it can first be worn again.  

Take this a step further by investing in a bag built to capture micro-fibres and choosing sustainable clothing materials when it’s time to purchasing something.  

8) Conserve water  

Only 0.5% of water on Earth is useable and available as freshwater. So, we’re not joking when we say water is liquid gold.  

It’s a key prerequisite for human development and, already, a quarter of all cities are water stressed. Little actions add up: Cringe when you see a character in a movie running water for ages; make sure you turn your tap off while brushing your teeth; install a waster-wise shower-head; fix those leaks.  

You may feel that your climate action a drop in the Ocean – but the Ocean would be less without that drop.  

Every drop counts.

9) Understand the impact of fast fashion on the environment 

Fast fashion is responsible for 8 – 10% of global carbon emissions (which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping – combined).  

Outfit repeating, sustainable fabrics, shopping second-hand and only purchasing items you know you’ll re-wear over and over again are in fashion this season.  
Scroll: How to take the fast out of fast fashion

Car exhaust pipe with smoke coming out. Shared by Ocean Generation in a article about actions to reduce carbon emissions.

10) What’s the impact of how you travel

No one’s surprised to learn: Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive modes of transportation. But did you know that flying at night is actually worse for the planet than flying during the day? Now you do.

Walking and cycling are both climate-friendly and positively impact our health.  

Suggestions when it comes to catching flights:  

  • Where alternatives exist, don’t fly.  
  • When you need to fly, choose direct flights to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise emissions associated with take-offs.  

11) Plant a mangrove tree – with the click of a button – to take Ocean action 

Mangrove trees are incredible climate solutions.

We’ve written about their impressive carbon sequestering power extensively and have a Mangrove Mandate: A promise to plant a mangrove tree in Madagascar for every new follower on @OceanGeneration’s instagram.  

By planting a mangrove tree, you’re making a direct impact on the environment. Plant (follow).

12) Rethink your relationship with plastic 

You knew it was coming. It wouldn’t be a climate change actions list without mention of plastic.  

Plastic is everywhere – from the clothing you’re wearing to the spot you’re sitting right now and even in the food we eat. There’s no getting rid of a material designed to last forever, but reducing our consumption of single-use plastics is essential for a healthy Ocean and planet.  

Start by rethinking your relationship with plastic. Instead of leaning on recycling, start reusing, reducing, totally refusing plastic options where you can.  

Crashing Ocean wave, shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

13) Start saying ‘Ocean’ not oceans 

At school, we’re all taught about the Ocean having 5 regions, but our Ocean isn’t separated by borders. It’s one, connected system.  

What happens in one part of the Ocean impacts Ocean health as a whole. 

If we all understood this, we’d be more mindful of what we dump in the Ocean, what we take out of it, and how we use it daily. As you go about your life, start saying Ocean – big O, no s. Not only does it highlight the interconnectedness of the Ocean, but also how our daily actions impact it. 

14) Be a voice for our Ocean 

The Ocean is quite literally keeping us alive. It’s our planet’s life support system, but most people don’t realise that.  

By keeping yourself informed about the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the various actions we can take to protect it – and then sharing that Ocean intelligence, you can propel a wave of positive change for our planet.

Sign up to our newsletter for monthly Ocean education. Submit a Wavemaker Story to let your voice for the Ocean be amplified on our channels. Share educational posts you come across. Be an Ocean advocate – not just on World Ocean Day but every day. 

15) Accept that you can’t do everything. Start where you are. 

It’s important to acknowledge that no one can do it all when it comes to tackling climate change and restoring the Ocean’s health.  

Striving to be a perfect environmentalist often leads to eco-anxiety and feelings of defeat about the amount of work to be done. The reality is: Imperfection is still helpful, and it’s a lot more inclusive than unrealistic demands for perfection. 

Our blue planet doesn’t need a handful of perfect environmentalists. Earth needs millions of imperfect people doing what they can to make a difference, and always trying to do better.  

Embrace imperfect environmentalism with us by starting where you are. Commit to one – or several – of these items right now. Collectively, we can make waves. 

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Say Ocean – not oceans.

There is only one Ocean.  

At school, we may learn that the Ocean has five separate regions, namely, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Artic and Southern Ocean. 

But our Ocean is not separated by borders. It’s connected as one and it works as a whole to help make all life on Earth possible.  

Connection with our Ocean

Talking about ‘Our Ocean’ as one Ocean reinforces the notion of its interconnectedness. 

We must all understand that: What happens in one part of the Ocean will have an impact on another part.

When 29,000 rubber ducks were washed into the North Pacific Ocean, they began showing up thousands of miles away in Alaska, Washington 10 months later.

This was known as “the quack heard around the world” and proved that a rubber duck (or a plastic bottle or whatever else) if chucked into a river could move across the Ocean and end up on the other side of the world. 

29,000 toy rubber ducks washed into the Ocean. 10 months later, they were showing up all around the world. It proved that our Ocean is one, connected system.

A similar story happened, when almost five million pieces of Lego escaped into the Ocean off the coast of Cornwall, spilled from a cargo ship. The tiny, plastic figurines are still being washed up on the beaches of Cornwall 25 years later

This not only highlights the interconnectedness of our Ocean, but also how our actions impact the entire Ocean.

What is your relationship with our Ocean?

We are all connected to the Ocean through weather, climate, and the very air we breathe. But everyone has their own unique experiences of the magic and beauty of the Ocean.  

We swim, sail and bathe by the beach. We eat fish or seaweed in sushi. We use products that are imported from other parts of the world – by boat. We listen to Ocean sounds on Spotify to relax us.  

Biologist Wallace J Nichols, the author of Blue Mind, says “We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.”

But the ways the Ocean provides life-support – like how it supplies the oxygen we breathe and nourishes the crops we eat – remains far less understood. 

This is where we come in.
Here at Ocean Generation, we want to rebuild this connection.

A diver in the Ocean, representing our connection with the Ocean. The Ocean supports all life on Earth and Ocean Generation wants to rebuild this human, Ocean connection so we can understand its importance.

Every drop of water is connected.

We don’t usually think of the water that comes out of our taps as the same water in the Ocean. But to quote a little fish…

All drains lead back to the Ocean.

Finding Nemo

The water that we use every day and the waterbodies in our communities connect us to the Ocean. All water eventually flows out to the Ocean.

Our Ocean is weaved into every part of our daily lives – and our actions have extraordinary impacts on it. 

#WeAreAllOcean

Want to feel more connected to our blue planet?

Join the Ocean Generation

The Ocean Generation is coming together to restore a healthy relationship between humanity and the Ocean. As the first generation to understand ocean issues, we are also the last generation who can stop them. 

We are all the Ocean Generation

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Our Impact: Understanding the 5 Ocean Threats

The Ocean is a flourishing ecosystem that can maintain itself.

But our actions have been negatively impacting the Ocean for decades, at a rate our Ocean cannot keep up with. 

There was a time when we thought the Ocean was endless. So, we treated it that way: Taking what we wanted, when we wanted, in whatever quantity we liked.  

It took us far too long to realise the many ways we threaten our Ocean. But now we know better.

Our Ocean is one of our planet’s most valuable ecosystems.

The Ocean provides over 50% of the world’s oxygen, captures 30% of human-made carbon emissions, and mitigates the climate crisis. The bottom line: We need a healthy Ocean for a healthy planet. 

What are the 5 key ways human activity impacts the Ocean? Ocean Generation is sharing the human threats our Ocean faces. 5 images side by side represent the threats: a dry landscape for climate change; a plastic bottle in the Ocean for pollution; a dam wall for costal infrastructure; a caught fish for resource extraction; and a cruise ship for daily Ocean use.

How does human activity threaten the Ocean?

Our Impact work explores the 5 key ways human actions negatively impact the Ocean.

Many of the underlying actions causing these Ocean Threats have existed throughout the course of human history – but have become unsustainable more recently because of rapid population growth and the consequent scale of our impact on the marine environment.  

What human activity impacts the Ocean the worst?

There are no known, credible, scientific classification of the severity of these Ocean threats. What does that mean – simply? We can’t tell you which of the five threaten the Ocean the worst.

But there’s no doubt that all of these Ocean threats are inter-related and can combine to have vast negative impacts on Ocean health, marine habitats and marine life which, in turn, pose serious threats to human health.

What are the 5 human-made Ocean threats?

1. Climate change: We can’t talk about climate change without the Ocean

It’s widely accepted that human actions are the primary drivers of climate change. The biggest culprit? Burning fossil fuels (for example, coal, oil and gas) to produce energy is the main cause of climate change.

Signs of climate change are all around us – and impossible to ignore. But too few of us understand the important role our Ocean plays in mitigating the climate crisis.

How does the Ocean mitigate climate change?

Our Ocean plays a fundamental role in regulating global temperatures, storing massive amounts of carbon, and capturing heat from the atmosphere.

Although the Ocean drastically mitigates climate change, it’s also impacted by climate change. These changes (like increased Ocean heat), have negative consequences on Ocean health and thus, all of us.

2. Pollution: It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean. 

Plastic is, by far, the most common and impacting pollutant in the Ocean.

80% of plastic in our Ocean comes from the land and most of that is made up of single-use plastic items; products we use once, then throw away. And that’s the biggest problem with plastic: there is no “away.”

This Ocean Generation above and below image shows human impact on the Ocean in the top half of the image with an oil spill in the Ocean and in the bottom half, the flourishing Ocean. An array of fish are swimming among bright blue corals.

3. Coastal Infrastructure Development: Why do we need to protect our coastlines?


2.5 billion people live within 100km from our Ocean.

Coastal regions are densely populated areas with increasing rates of population growth (and who can blame them? Living near the Ocean has numerous benefits.)

But rapid urbanisation of our coastlines has negative impacts on the environment – many of which are linked to climate change.

With higher frequencies of natural weather events (like cyclones and hurricanes), erosion and land loss, and flooding, coastal regions have never been this vulnerable.

4. Resource Extraction: What resources do we extract from the Ocean? 

Around 3 billion people rely on the Ocean for their primary source of protein: Seafood.

Seafood is the most notable thing we extract from the Ocean but it’s not the only thing. We also extract minerals, fossil fuels, and plants from the Ocean.

Our Ocean – as incredible as it is – is not limitless.

We must recognise the limits of Ocean resources and control the quantity and frequency at which we extract resources from the Ocean; allowing it time to replenish and regenerate. Otherwise, we will reach a point of no return.

A fisherman, standing knee deep in the Ocean, is holding up a fishing net. It is sunset and only the outline of the fisherman and his hat can be seen against the yellow sky. In this blog, Ocean Generation is sharing the negative impact of resource extraction on the Ocean.

5. Daily Ocean Use: What’s the impact of daily human actions on the Ocean?

Humans work hard and always have something on the go. The Ocean is no different.

All around the world, our Ocean is in use every day. From cargo shipping for trade, passenger traffic for travel to commercial fishing and research – the Ocean is used widely. How we make use of the Ocean is what’s important.

We need to turn to using the Ocean sustainably to protect the awe-inspiring ecosystem that supports all life on Earth. 

What can I do to protect our blue planet?

Understanding the 5 main threats our Ocean faces is step one. Step two is doing something about them. Some of these Ocean Threats can feel overwhelming – but they don’t have to be.

Working together is humanity’s superpower. And it remains our best tool for solving the world’s biggest problems, and simultaneously, restoring our Ocean.

Three ways you can take environmental action – with a focus on the Ocean – right now:

  1. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly impact in your inbox; explore our Science Hub; or visit our Instagram page for bite-size environmental education.

  2. Recognise that you don’t have to be perfect.

    Ask yourself: What can I do right now to decrease my carbon footprint? What can I do to be a voice for our Ocean and empower others to do the same?

  3. 20 actions to reduce and reuse plastic.

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Ocean Generation: Endorsed as a UN Ocean Decade Project

In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2021 – 2030 as ‘the Ocean Decade’ (officially: the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development).

What is the goal of the UN’s Ocean Decade?

The Ocean Decade is a global effort to provide “transformative Ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our Ocean” endorsed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO; scientists, resource providers, governments, business and industry, and other stakeholders joining forces to drive solutions.

Their vision? To provide the science we need for the Ocean we want, with the aim of supporting a well-functioning, productive, resilient and sustainable Ocean.

Ocean Generation’s “Ocean Intelligence” approach has been endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade.

Ocean Generation - a global Ocean charity - is endorsed by UNESCO. Our Ocean Intelligence approach, which translates complex Ocean science into engaging tools and resources.

What is Ocean Intelligence?

We are delighted that our unique Ocean Intelligence approach has been endorsed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC).

Our ‘Ocean Intelligence’ approach uses the power of storytelling to translate complex Ocean science into engaging and practical actions.


Through Ocean Intelligence we play a central role in bringing to life the vision of the Ocean Decade by connecting people everywhere to the Ocean and communicating the science we need for the Ocean we want.


We are particularly happy to continue our long relationship with the IOC who were early supporters and patrons of our original documentary film ‘A Plastic Ocean’.

Richard Hill, CEO at Ocean Generation.

We unpack the often jargon-heavy, complicated science behind the human actions that threaten our Ocean.

Ocean Generation uses the power of storytelling to translate environmental science into understandable, practical actions that people, globally, can take to restore a healthy relationship with the Ocean and live more sustainable lifestyles.

Our Ocean Intelligence approach is grounded in four science-based pillars:

  1. Our Ocean: Engaging people in the wonder of our Ocean.
  2. Ocean not Oceans: Sharing the Science behind one interconnected Ocean that humans rely on.
  3. Our Impact: Exploring the 5 human actions that threaten our Ocean.
  4. Our Future: Discovering how we can all take Ocean Action.

These 4 pillars underpin all our Youth Engagement programmes for 3 – 25-year-olds.

Two young African men looking into a body of water. Their faces cannot be seen. The accompanying quote reads: Ocean Generation sees the world's youth as the key drivers for a more positive shift towards our Ocean.

How we bring the Ocean to young people

From a toe in the water to a full immersive experience

In partnership with Earth Cubs, we’ve launched a play-based game for 3 – 7-year-olds that aims to engage children on the importance of our Ocean, the harm of plastic pollution, and how they can contribute to creating a healthier planet.

Ocean Academy exists to bring the Ocean to the classroom. It’s an open-source digital education hub designed for 5 – 16-year-olds, providing them with access to the best Ocean education – in easy to understand and engage with formats.

The Wavemaker Programme empowers young adults – 16 – 25 – to make a positive change by providing them with tools and resources. Through our workshops, masterclasses, and personal development programmes, Wavemakers accelerates social action and incubates innovation.

We see a world where the Ocean is freed from human threats within a generation.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us online to be part of Ocean solutions.

As the first generation to deeply understand Ocean issues, we are the last generation who can stop them.

We are all the Ocean Generation.

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15 Plastic Pollution Facts You Should Know

15 science-backed plastic pollution facts, shared by Ocean Generation: experts in Ocean health since 2009. Read to learn about marine pollution, microplastics, and how plastic impacts human health.

We’ve become dependent on single-use plastic products.

And the reason why isn’t hard to find. Plastic is cheap, convenient and was made to last forever – but as plastic pollution has severe environmental and health consequences for our blue planet.

Understanding key facts about plastic pollution is the first step to rethinking our relationship with it, and ensuring a healthier, more sustainable future all life on Earth.

We’re breaking down 15 facts about plastic pollution – backed by science and our expertise as experts in Ocean health since 2009. Find out how plastic enters the environment, its impact on wildlife, what microplastics are, and how it effects our health below. 

15 Plastic pollution facts you need to know:

1. Up to 422 million tonnes of plastic are being produced each year.


The amount of plastic produced every year weighs more than all of humanity (estimated at 316 million tonnes in 2013).

2. Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the Ocean every year.


If waste management practices don’t improve, scientists predict this amount could increase tenfold by 2025.

Single-use plastic items are the biggest contributors to marine litter (it is estimated that 1 – 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year).

3. Plastics make up to around 75% of marine litter, although this can be up to 100% at some sites. 


Plastic in the Ocean breaks up into smaller fragments called microplastics, which have been identified in commercial fish and thus, consumed by humans.

4. Plastic in the Ocean breaks up into smaller fragments called microplastics.


Plastic will never go away. These microplastics have been identified in commercial fish consumed by humans.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are small plastic pieces measuring less than 5 millimetres.

While some microplastics are intentionally made small (like microbeads in facial scrubs and industrial abrasives used in sandbags), others have been formed by breaking away from larger plastic products.

Due to large amounts of plastic pollution, microplastics can now be found everywhere on Earth – from Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench; the deepest part of our Ocean.

Explained: What are microplastics, where do they come from and what can we do about them?
Read: For the first time, in March 2022, plastic was found in human blood.

5. Half of all plastics are single-use applications, meaning they’re used just once and disposed of.


We are all guilty of using single-use plastic items. From shampoo bottles to make-up products, plastic forks, and straws – single-use plastic is part of our daily lives.

Small behaviour changes can make a massive impact in reducing the flow of plastic pollution to the Ocean.

The next time you’re at the store, reaching for a single-use plastic item, stop and consider: Is there a more sustainable product I can use? If not, think of ways you can reuse your plastic items instead of discarding of them once you’re done.

6. Plastic was invented 150 years ago.


When we see the stat, ‘Plastic takes 450 years to decompose’ we reply, ‘How is that known?’ Plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to confirm that.

Instead of breaking down, it’s more accurate to say plastic breaks up.

Plastic is indestructible; it was designed to defy nature, and designed not to decompose. Plastic just gets smaller, making it harder to remove from the Ocean.

7. Birds are highly susceptible to plastic ingestion.


It is estimated that over 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastic.

8. There is no giant floating island of plastic at the centre of the Pacific or any other parts of the Ocean.


The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is invisible from the surface.

Plankton nets, however, reveal the true nature of the plastic problem: An accumulation of microplastics that fill up each net in concentrations that increase towards the Ocean’s centre.

9. Plastic acts as a sink for chemicals in the environment, and transports them.


When plastic is mistakenly consumed by marine life, plastic chemicals are released and stored in the fatty tissue of the animal. 

Those chemicals travel up the marine food chain, magnifying in concentration on their way up. Eventually, the plastic in fish reaches and gets consumed by people.

10. Chemicals are added to plastic during its production.


Chemicals are added to plastics to give the products certain properties. Some of the chemicals, known endocrine disruptors, have been linked to critical diseases including birth defects, cancer, autoimmune disease, infertility and cognitive and behavioural disorders.

So, plastic isn’t just polluting our Ocean – it’s polluting our bodies.

11. Crustaceans tested at the deepest point of our Ocean have ingested plastic.


Animals from the deepest places on our blue planet have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears that man-made fibres have contaminated the most remote places on Earth.

12. People living along rivers and coastlines are the most impacted by plastic pollution.


It’s been reported that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the most impacted by plastic pollution.

13. Low-income communities face more health impacts near plastic production sites.


Communities with low incomes have greater exposure to toxins and plastic waste, and bear the brunt of the impacts of improper plastic disposal and incineration.

14. Annual plastic production has skyrocketed since the early 1950s, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015.


These numbers do not include synthetic fibres used in clothing, rope and other products which accounted for 61 million tonnes in 2016.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts a 3.5 – 3.8% growth in plastic production per year through 2050. As of 2019, we’re seeing proof of this – with production of single-use plastics increasing despite our growing awareness of their negative impacts.

15. Bioplastics are not not as green as they seem. Approach with caution.


Though companies often market bioplastics under the same umbrella as biodegradable products, they are not necessarily biodegradable.

Most bioplastics require very specific conditions to break down effectively. They also do not solve the litter or throwaway culture problem.

What is plastic – really?

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To ensure a healthy future for our Ocean and planet we must decrease our plastic dependency.

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The History of Plastic Pollution

Understanding the plastic problem

Worldwide, up to five trillion plastic bags are used every year and up to 422 million tonnes of plastic are being produced annually.

As if that isn’t bad enough, half of all plastic produced is for single-use purposes, meaning it’s used once and then thrown away. In reality, there is no ‘away’ for a material designed to be indestructible.

For decades, our Ocean has been a dumping ground for plastic, sewage, industrial and chemical waste. While the Ocean is vast, it’s not bottomless and it’s certainly not a landfill site.

Single-use plastics are the biggest contributors to marine litter and pose severe threats to marine life, human health, and the planet. But how did we get here? When was plastic created? What can we do to take action and reduce the plastic polluting our blue planet?

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What is the history of Ocean pollution?

We’re used to having our rubbish collected, sorted, recycled or put into landfill – but for millennia, people didn’t dispose of their waste as we would today.

Instead, waterways were used as a means of waste disposal or rubbish would be burned. As a result, pollution would end up in our Ocean or in the atmosphere.

Before the advent of plastics, and with a relatively small population, the amount of waste in the Ocean was rather small. 

The invention of plastic: The dawn of pollution

In 1862, Alexander Parkes developed the first man-made plastic. The product, called ‘Parkesine’, wasn’t a commercial success, but it was an important step in the development of man-made plastic.

A staggering number of plastic innovations emerged in the period surrounding World War II, from 1933 – 1945. Plastic technology came to the forefront because copper, aluminium, steel and zinc became highly sought-after metals used only for the war effort.

In the 1960s, it became clearer how polluted our Ocean was getting.

A styrofoam food pack from a grocery store, which usually contains meat or fish, is filled with plastic pollution found in the Ocean: a discarded can of soda snack wrappers, tissues, and plastic packaging. A label on the front reads: Catch of the Day. Atlantic Ocean. In this article, Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution.

Hold on: What is marine pollution?

Marine pollution refers to waste ending up in the Ocean and causing adverse effects. Specifically, marine pollution is a result of human impacts. A combination of chemicals and trash – most of which comes from land – is tossed, washed, or blown into the Ocean.

When was Ocean pollution – specifically, Ocean dumping – first reported?

We can assume that Ocean dumping has been in practice before anyone investigated it, partly because scientists didn’t attempt to research this issue before the 1960s. Many organisations used to dump their chemical by-products into waterways to remove their waste. 

In the 1960s, scientists from the National Academy of Sciences discovered some alarming news: More than 100 million tonnes of waste had been dumped in our Ocean.

This report discounted plastic pollution, which we now know is one of the major pollutants in our Ocean, because it had just recently become a mainstream material. Instead, the Ocean pollution that these scientists reported largely relates to chemical, industrial and sewage waste. 

How have plastics developed into a major Ocean polluter?

Between the 1970’s and 1990’s,
plastic waste generation more than tripled.

Realisation hit in the 1970’s: Plastic doesn’t ‘go away’ and it doesn’t break down; it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. 

During this period, there was a significant rise in plastic production too, which resulted in more and more pollution. Scientists also discovered that seabirds were ingesting plastic materials and seals were getting trapped in plastic netting.

Scene from a beach clean. White tennis shoes of a litter picker are visible. The beach cleaner is picking up a pink plastic bottle off the beach. In the background, a plastic trash bag can be seen. Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution in this blog.

How have we tried to de-pollute the Ocean?

There have been legislative attempts to de-pollute the Ocean and remove plastic from our waterways. 

Four years after the National Academy of Sciences scientists discovered how much waste had really been dumped into the Ocean, the U.S Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries act.

By the 1980s, the Society of the Plastics Industry developed the plastic resin identification code, to make recycling and disposing of plastics easier. But our reliance on plastic had already taken hold. 

In the early 2000s, the amount of plastic waste we generated rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years.

Plastic pollution has negative consequences for all life on Earth.

Even though we know plastic pollution is bad for our blue planet, we continue to produce millions of tonnes of plastic from plastic bottles and plastic forks to plastic shopper bags to giant plastic commercial containers.

A key reason plastic continues to contribute to marine pollution is lack of awareness.

From individuals to businesses to governments – if we don’t understand the problems associated with plastic pollution and the importance of having a healthy Ocean, we won’t do anything to change our ways.

As of 2022, there are 8 billion people on Earth. We need millions of those people understanding that a healthy Ocean is essential to a healthy future for all life.

Necessary legislation to reduce plastic production and pollution will only be implemented when the masses understand how necessary that legislation is.

Up to 422 million tonnes of plastic is being produced annually.

What does the future of our Ocean look like?

We make decisions about what to purchase and what to wear daily. Choices made about how we live right now will impact the Ocean for decades to come.

So, the future health of our Ocean isn’t set. We have the ability to decide the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem. We can start making choices today to turn the tide.

Seagulls in flight. With the Ocean int the background, four seagulls are in various stages of taking flight; their wings flapping as they set off. Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009 - shares the history of plastic pollution in this article.


We can right the wrongs of our plastic pollution history, and embrace the Ocean as the life supporting ecosystem that it is, rather than use it as a dumping ground. 

We are the first generation to deeply understand Ocean issues, and the last generation who can stop them. We are all the Ocean Generation.

How can I start taking Ocean and climate action?

Get informed. Our monthly newsletter provides Ocean positive news, easy to understand Ocean science, and engaging pop-culture pieces to help you understand the human-made threats our Ocean faces and what you can do to make a difference. 

Why is the Ocean so important?

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