Healthy oceans are critical to our survival. Three quarters of the surface of the planet is covered by the Oceans, an area that spans more than 350 million square kilometers. Of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, 70% is produced by marine plants such as kelp and plankton living in the ocean. If the ocean dies, so do we!
Oceans serve as a means of international travel. More than 90% of all international trade is carried by ships. While cruise ships are a significant sector of the tourism industry.
Human society has been relying on the oceans for water, food and fuel for centuries. In the past century, overfishing of an estimated 40% of the fisheries has reduced the number of large, long-lived species such as Bluefin Tuna by 90%. Indiscriminate fishing practices destroy coral reef and kelp forests contributing to the death of turtles and sharks. Offshore oil rigs have led to oil spills which have proved deadly to many ocean inhabitants.
Seawater is pumped from the ocean in many areas to be used as coolant in reactors or desalinated to create freshwater. When returned, this water may contain chemicals or be a higher temperature than the surrounding water. Warming water, further fueled by global climate change, is devastating the polar ice patterns affecting such diverse species as krill, beluga whales and polar bears.
Mining and Marine Debris
Further stress is put on our oceans by marine debris. Marine debris is defined as human created waste that has been released into the water deliberately or accidentally. A major source of this debris is storm water discharge. Approximately 60-80% of all debris is made of plastic, which is non-biodegradable and can kill marine mammals and organisms. Ocean currents tend to move this debris into a convergence zone. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the best known location is double the size of Texas! This is not a phenomenon limited to the Pacific Ocean, other major oceans all have similar collection areas for garbage.
More recently, the ocean floor has begun to be mined. Diamonds, gold, silver, metal ores, gravel and sand are all compounds which are currently being dredged from the ocean floor. This dredging is devastating to the ecosystem, causing widespread destruction of animal habitats and wiping out vast numbers of inhabitants.
Our future is tied directly to the future of our oceans. They produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe. Fisheries provide 16% of the world’s protein with higher percentages in developing nations. Scientists are exploring the use of many marine organisms as a new source of pharmaceuticals. Over one third of the world’s population lives within 100 km of an oceanic coast and the oceans are a treasured source of recreational activities.
You may not realize it, but the oceans are vital to our continued existence and we need to do all we can to protect this ancient source of life.