“I try to make people aware of what their consumption does.”

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Written By Maya Cantina

Frauke Bagusche, born in 1978, is a marine biologist, author and speaker. She was a professional diver in Egypt and received her PhD on the effects of climate change on oysters from England’s University of Southampton. She then led marine biology stations in the Maldives and sailed 9,500 kilometers from the Caribbean via the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea to raise awareness of ocean litter. Bagusche has published two books: “The Blue Wonder” (2019) and “Nomads of the Oceans” (2023). She lives in Saarbrücken.

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Ms Bagusche, why are you committed to the oceans that are almost 400 kilometers from the nearest coast?

I have always felt a deep connection with the sea. Many people are surprised when I say: Sea protection starts inland. Because whether you are on the North Sea or like me in the Saarland, you are currently breathing in the sea air!

Up to 80 percent of global oxygen is produced by phytoplankton in the ocean. With every breath we take, we are connected to the sea everywhere on earth – and the sea is essential to our survival.

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How do the oceans protect our climate and environment?

In addition to oxygen production, the oceans determine the weather. For example, without the warm Gulf Stream we would have a significantly colder climate in Central Europe. They also absorb most of the CO2 emitted by humans.

Ecosystems such as coral reefs protect islands from erosion and storm surges. And the oceans are a source of food for millions of people.

In short: without the sea we would not exist.

But the oceans themselves are increasingly suffering at the hands of us humans. Researchers have been observing a sudden increase in Earth’s surface temperature for a year. How does this affect marine life?

Coral bleaching is in full swing worldwide. The record heat in the water is clearly visible in the corals, because if temperatures are too high for an extended period of time, they die.

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This is alarming because corals are vital to the ocean ecosystem. They protect the coasts against erosion and serve as a nursery for 25 percent of all fish species worldwide. This means that coral reefs produce enormous amounts of fish, which we humans also depend on for survival.

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The fact that the oceans are warmer than at any time since records began is also due to human-induced climate change. Does this surprise you as a maritime expert?

The facts have been clear for decades: the oceans in particular are suffering from climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing.

From 2010 to 2013 I investigated the effects of climate change on oysters. When I received my PhD, I never imagined that the climate crisis would be felt so quickly and drastically.

We are feeling the consequences not only in the global south, but also in central Germany: people are dying from floods and enormous heat waves. This will all get worse if we don’t finally change course.

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Have you experienced a change in crisis awareness over the course of your career?

When I first visited the Maldives as a researcher in 2013, I was already talking about plastic pollution. Microplastics were not yet a common term at the time and I had to explain a lot. Nowadays, every fourth grader knows where microplastics end up. There are more and more plastic-free and unpackaged alternatives in supermarkets.

This shows that change is happening and that gives me courage. We need to highlight these positive changes.

Countless amounts of plastic end up in the oceans.  The project “The Ocean Cleanup

Plastic: the super material that became an eternal nightmare

The Earth is full of waste: millions of tons of plastic waste are created around the world every year – and some of it ends up in the environment. The United Nations wants to solve the waste problem with an internationally binding treaty, but negotiations are proving difficult. Is a world without plastic even possible?

At a global level, how do you assess the United Nations plan to protect 30 percent of the world’s ocean area by 2030?

This is commendable and should have been done long ago. The UN Ocean Decade from 2021 to 2030 also contributes to ensuring that the issue of ocean protection reaches the broad masses of the population. But nevertheless, we need larger protected areas quickly to allow the marine environment to recover – that is, places where there is no fishing!

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We also need to put more pressure on the industry to reduce CO2 and plastic emissions. Of course we are working on this, also globally. But everyone can do their part and put pressure on themselves!

Today you are very involved in educational work on the subject of the sea. How did that happen?

Due to a chronic illness, I was no longer able to work as a marine biologist in the Maldives after my return to Germany in 2016.

But doing nothing is not in my nature. So I started writing a book. At the same time, we also founded the association “The Blue Mind” in 2018 to promote marine knowledge in our own country. Because maritime protection starts at the front door.

“The Blue Ghost”

“Anchoring marine knowledge in our own country”: this is the goal of the association “The Blue Mind” in Saarland, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. Marine biologist Frauke Bagusche founded it in 2018. Together with two colleagues, she gives workshops and lectures in daycare centers and schools. The project is supported by the respective countries’ environmental ministries and private donors. www.thebluemind.org

How do you show this?

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I try to make people aware of the damage caused by their consumption: whether it concerns clothing, food or car tires. Everything that is produced produces CO2 and in the worst case, plastic. We now find microparticles in every small body of water that flows into the sea somewhere. With fish – often from endangered species – they then end up back on our plates.

Do you also experience the connections practically?

Yes of course. As part of the club work I take children and young people to local streams and use a net to discover what is swimming there. We collect trash and talk about what we find. I ask them: Who do you think the waste comes from? How long does it take for it to become microplastic?

With VR glasses, children can also virtually immerse themselves in the oceans and develop an awareness of their beauty worth protecting.

What would you like each individual to do to protect the oceans?

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Everyone should think about it more: how can I live more sustainably tomorrow than yesterday? I don’t have to change my whole life right away. Plastic-free and unpackaged alternatives can be found everywhere in the supermarket. And there are also so many second-hand stores where you can shop sustainably and cheaply.

And fish consumption?

I really like to eat sea fish and salmon. Unfortunately, my book research doesn’t allow me to make the most of it because I know how problematic it is. But if I feel like it, I’ll take a look at what’s going on in local aquaculture; Labels and apps help with this. Every little step counts.

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