Today is World Oceans Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”, encouraging us all to reflect on the health of the vast, mysterious expanses of water that cover some 70 percent of our planet’s surface area, and to remember the many gifts they offer to us land-dwellers. Chief among them is the oxygen we breathe – 70 percent of it is generated by the oceans. In addition, the oceans play a major role in regulating the Earth’s climate by absorbing 30 percent of the greenhouse gases we produce. They are also home to many incredible animal species, all of whom play a pivotal role in managing the particular oceanic ecosystem to which they are adapted.
World Oceans Day organizers state: “The ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year, produces most of the oxygen we breathe, is the home to an incredible array of wildlife, provides us with important medicines, and so much more! In order to ensure the health and safety of our communities and future generations, it’s imperative that we take the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us.” Sadly, however, we are treating the oceans with disrespect, rather than appreciating their seemingly boundless capacity to sustain myriad life forms.
Oceanic Dead Zones
Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Team
In 2014, it was estimated by One World One Ocean that around 405 “dead zones” exist in our world’s seas. These “dead zones” are areas within an ocean where little to no oxygen exists – usually due to fertilizer run-off and nitrogen pollution – rendering that area incapable of sustaining life.
The animal agriculture industry has been strongly implicated in this phenomenon. Chemical and pesticide run-off from dairy farms, for example, has been linked to the appearance of dangerous algal blooms in local waterways and lakes. These algal blooms deprive the surrounding water of oxygen, thereby killing off its fish and wildlife. This frightening pattern is repeated on a larger scale in oceanic dead zones. The amount of dead zones is set to double every ten years if our current rate of run-off and nitrogen pollution continues, with the terrifying prospect that the oceans will be more dead than alive in forty years’ time.
Oceanic Warming and Acidification
As mentioned above, the oceans take in some 30 percent of the greenhouse gases we produce. They have always served as a natural carbon sink … but this function has been pushed to the limit in recent decades, thanks to the escalating amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that human industrial activities produce. As the planet’s oceans have been absorbing progressively larger amounts of these gases, their Ph level has dropped, becoming more acidic. This is a serious threat to the survival of marine animals who require a more alkaline environment in order to flourish.
At the same time, our oceans’ median temperature has been rising, thanks to the phenomenon of global climate change. This combination of warming and acidification is threatening a wide variety of oceanic ecosystems, with coral reef systems at a particularly high risk of dying. This is a particularly serious problem, because – even though coral reefs make up only 0.1 percent of the oceans’ total area – they support an incredible 25 percent of the world’s marine species! An estimated 500 million people rely on coral reef ecosystems for their sustenance and livelihood.
Overfishing is another grave threat to marine animals. Aggressive commercial fishing methods such as long line fishing, bottom trawling, and the usage of purse seine nets often devastate large areas of a sea by removing far more fish than was intended. A recent study published in the Nature Communications Journal revealed that fish catch levels around the world have been, on average, 50 percent higher than the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s previous estimates. The study also found that catch levels have been strongly declining since the 1990s, “due to countries fishing too much and having exhausted one fish after the other.”
Untargeted marine animal species, such as sharks, small whales, dolphins, and rays, frequently end up entangled in commercial fishing trawlers’ nets as “bycatch” – despite not being the intended catch species – and usually face death as a result. Around 40 percent of a typical fishing fleet’s catch is made up of these animals, while 80 percent of the oceans’ fish stocks are fully- or over-exploited. Many conservation experts believe that our oceans could be empty of fish by the year 2048 … but the truly tragic news is that even if they do not become devoid of life by that date, they could end up containing more plastic than fish.
Plastic Pollution Coalition
Plastic pollution is, perhaps, the most grave threat currently being faced by the ocean and its many forms of life, as the problem is rapidly beginning to seem almost insurmountable. The human addiction to convenience, in the form of plastic bags, bottles, cups, drinking straws, food packages – to name just a few of the many single-use items that we use every single day, without giving them a second thought once they have been thrown out – is threatening 700 marine species with extinction.
270,000 tons of plastic debris cover the surface of our oceans. However, this represents only a fraction of the 8.8 million tons of trash that makes it way into them every single year. The most seemingly innocuous piece of plastic, such as a cotton bud, could do untold damage to a marine animal. An ever-growing amount of marine animals have starved or suffocated to death after swallowing or becoming entangled in our trash … even the largest, most majestic animals such as sperm whales.
“Plastic is ubiquitous in modern society and seemingly unavoidable,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet. “But is it worth risking the lives of marine species, the health of the oceans and our own future in the name of convenience? By taking steps to minimize everyday plastics in our lives, we can crush plastic at the source and give marine life a fighting chance.”
Each of us can play an instrumental role in putting an end to the slow suffocation of our oceans, by identifying where we use unnecessary amounts of plastic in our daily lives and actively searching for alternatives.
So How Can You Help Marine Life This World Oceans Day?
To find out more about the many events taking place to commemorate World Oceans Day, and how you can get involved, check out the World Oceans Day website. You can also learn more about how to make a difference for marine life by checking out the articles below.
- 6 Ways You Can Help Save Our Oceans
- Animal Agriculture – Killing More Than Just Cows. How Farm Run-Off threatens Marine Life
- How Our Obsession With Convenience Impacts Marine Animals
- How to Ditch Single-Use Items and Reduce Your Impact on the Planet
- If You Took Seafood Out of Your Diet, How Would it Really Help the Planet?
- No Oceans, No Us: 3 Reasons We Should Care About the State of Our Oceans
Join our #CrushPlastic campaign and learn how you can reduce the amount of plastic you produce for the sake of marine animals.
When the oceans die, we die. It is up to us to ensure that this precious entity thrives for many years to come.