How our Oceans are Vital to all Life on Earth and What Can be Done to Protect Them
“All life on Earth is connected to the ocean and its inhabitants”, making it vital for life to exist (10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean, 2010). Ocean waters cover 71% of our Earth’s surface we have not fully explored the mysteries our ocean’s hold with scientists estimating that they have yet to discover 90% of the species that inhabit them (Lonne, 2020. Marine Conservation Institute, 2020). Our oceans provide more than 50% of the oxygen we need to breathe (more than the amazon rainforest) while acting as a massive sponge for carbon dioxide and other pollutants, regulating our climate and giving a home to massive food resources (Marine Conservation Institute, 2020). The balance the oceans bring to our Earth is necessary for life to continue this planet. These cradles of life are undergoing a massive environmental change due to the effects of climate change that are threatening not only the ecosystems within and around them, but our survival and way of life. (For more fun facts about our oceans visit; https://www.divein.com/articles/ocean-facts/)
What’s Going on Down There?
As the human population increased and the industrial revolution changed the world, humans have created an exponential amount of waste that is harmful to our planet, known as a carbon footprint. The plastic we use, the transportation we choose, the products we purchase create Figure 1.1
carbon emissions and pollution that contribute to our carbon footprint. As the ocean acts as a great sponge, filtering out harmful pollutants from our air, it absorbs more and more toxins that can and can create acid like waters that kill the ocean life and ecosystems within them while increasing the toxicity of some species, making them more harmful to be eaten. What do we know?! Well we know that greenhouse gases have caused the temperatures of ocean waters to rise in response to the excessive levels of carbon dioxide and pollutants that are being absorbed by our oceans (FIGURE 1.1). “In the last half-century, the ocean has absorbed 90% of the excess heat created by burning fossil fuels. That’s led to warmer waters, which can affect where fish swim, bleach coral reefs, change how marine species reproduce, speed up sea-level rise, and even alter weather events on land.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018). Another phenomenon arising from this excess heat are ‘marine heat waves’, which kill ocean species that inhabit effected ecosystems that promote healthy environments and provide the oxygen we breathe (Plumer, 2019). The expansion of our oceans (water + heat = expansion of water), and the melting of
glaciers and massive ice sheets, have resulted in sea levels rising over 8 inches in some areas of the world over the past five decades (FIGURE 1.2). This increase in sea level has resulted in a loss of even more vital ecosystems, such as our wetlands, and coastlines, literally shrinking the land mass of some areas. With our oceans taking over more land, flooding has become an increasing concern in areas that were once safe from the effects of flooding. The intense weather systems that are becoming more frequent due to the oceans effect on our climate, can raise sea levels even more which can cause catastrophic damage resulting in loss of businesses, property and life.
In response to the extreme condition’s climate change has created in our oceans several species have altered their migration patterns to survive, however this has also reduced many species abilities to reproduce in numbers that they once did. This change has had a negative impact on fisheries and aquaculture the world over as they work to adapt to understand the new patterns and to a reduction in the availability and quality of seafood available.
Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture
For thousands of years, marine life has provided the sustenance needed to live. Fish have long been a staple of many diets throughout various cultures, resulting in the rise of aquaculture and fisheries. The seafood industry employs over 58 million people globally making it a crucial part of the global economy (Shahbandeh, 2020). As the population of our earth increased so did the demand for seafood, creating the problem of overfishing that has been dubbed as “… the greatest threat our ocean faces, and global fish populations are rapidly decreasing due to high demand and unsustainable fishing practices.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018).
In response to “global fish populations (…) rapidly being depleted due to demand, loss of habitat and unsustainable fishing practices.”, sustainable fishing practices became the ethical approach to enable ocean species that were struggling to have a chance to repopulate and survive, produce seafood for consumption and to improve the overall health of our oceans and waterways (10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean, 2010). The traceability of seafood is essential for this process to be successful, as it ensures that any claims of sustainability and healthy seafood are accurate. Through sustainable practices the seafood industry is ensuring its future by providing the seafood needed to feed the world’s populations, preserving ocean ecosystems, reducing its carbon footprint and by producing more fish then they harvest allowing struggling species a chance for survival. But sustainable fishing alone will not save our oceans, we all must do our part.
How to Make a Difference
Many countries have created action plans, such as the Paris Agreement, to help restore the balance to our oceans and promote healthy ecosystems and life within it, while many aquaculture and fishery operations have adopted sustainable fishing practices, the survival of our oceans and our planet depend on every organisation and individual to do their part. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce our carbon footprint and help to fight the warming and expansion of our oceans and the negative effects that result.
Even if you are not using an electrical item, if it is plugged in it is using energy and producing pollution. “The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that this “phantom” energy use accounts for 75% of the power consumed by electronics in the average home.”, so why not save some money and help our planet and unplug any electronics not in use (Hunter Benson, 2018).
Businesses can also reduce their energy consumptions by ensuring that lights are off in unused rooms or by installing motion sensor lighting throughout their buildings and through turning off computers and other office equipment at the end of the work day and utilising the sleep or hibernation setting on their PCs (not screen savers).
Placing live plants inside of the business promotes healthier air and act as a natural air conditioner, helping to reduce a businesses energy consumption and their power bill (Rooney, 2019).
Reduce Your Waste
“With 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year, there could be a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean within the next decade alone.” (7 ways you can help save the ocean, 2018). Strive to use environmentally friendly products like paper straws and reusable bags to reduce the plastic that end up in our oceans. This plastic can entangle marine life or be digested by it resulting in the animal’s death or increased toxicity.
Businesses that practice recycling programs and limit the amount of plastics they use in the production and marketing of their goods are also doing their part to limit their waste and need to be supported by consumers. In the aquaculture and fishery sectors there is an issue of ‘ghost gear’ that is equipment that has been lost in some form and left to the will of the ocean. “In the Northwest Atlantic, it’s estimated that lobster fishers lose up to two per cent of their traps every year, while in the Pacific Ocean, ghost gear makes up 46 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”, making the proper storage and maintenance of the equipment they use crucial in not only helping our oceans, but limiting their financial losses (Something spooky is lurking in our oceans, 2020).
The products used in our homes and in industries can be a detriment to our ocean environments as well. Cat litter, for example, if poured down a drain is toxic to many species if ingested. Toxic cleaners and products can end up going down the drain and possibly travel to the coast, polluting our seas.
In mass scale production and in small scale business “Product toxicity reduction should be a core element of business strategy because it can reduce reputational and litigation liabilities, help companies avoid “toxic lockout” of their products from the marketplace, and drive innovation.” (Liroff, 2009). Reducing the use of harmful and toxic chemicals, such as eliminating bleached paper from any offices, and implementing eco-friendly chemicals that can break down easily without leaving long term negative environmental impacts is essential to operating an environmentally responsible operation.
Both the Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices page (https://www.consumerreports.org/food-labels/seals-and-claims) and the Government of Canada website (https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/Oca-bc.nsf/eng/ca02523.html) offer information on how to identify what products have less of an environmental impact.
Be Conscious of What You Buy and What You Eat Knowing what you are buying, where it comes from, what it is made of and if the producer is environmentally responsible is essential in promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices in organizations. Steer clear of any products that endanger vulnerable wildlife such as coral jewelry, shark products and anything made with parts of endangered species and seek out local restaurants and stores that sell sustainable seafood to promote healthy fish populations and support the vital fishery and aquaculture industries.
The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish at least twice a week, since fish are high in protein, low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.”, in order to promote good heart health and fight cardiovascular disease and with the Earth’s population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, sustainable and well managed aquaculture and fisheries are necessary (Cho, 2016). Reports have determined that “the world will be able to catch an additional 10 million metric tons of fish in 2050 if management stays as effective as it is today… If such a management system is enforced, an additional 35 million metric tons of fish could be caught sustainably in 2050.”, but, as with any business, it starts at the top. Analyzing and altering the management systems of a business, especially in our fisheries and aquaculture sectors, to reflect sustainable and responsible practices is, “[t]he best way to protect the long-term food and economic security that the ocean provides…” (Will there be enough fish to feed the world in 2050?, 2017).
When travelling, try to use transportation methods that reduce your carbon footprint such as public transit, and if you drive your own vehicle ensure that it is in excellent working condition, with properly inflated tires. “In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that under-inflated
tires waste about 1.2 billion gallons of gas per year in the U.S. Cutting back on fossil fuel consumption can help curb the effects of climate change and ocean acidification, which are altering ocean chemistry and disrupting marine wildlife on a global scale.” (Hunter Benson, 2018). Ensuring that the transportation methods utilized in the production and marketing of goods are in superb condition and working at their peak not only helps reduce carbon emissions but accelerates delivery times and ensures proper and safe handling of the products.
Another great way for any business to do its part in keeping our environment and our oceans clean and healthy is by employing mass shipping methods to limit the amount of emissions necessary to deliver your products, using biodegradable packaging options and working with shipping companies that use ‘green’ shipping and packaging methods
Knowledge is Power Education is never ending, and a wise person will tell you they can always learn more. Seek out information on what environmental policies your community, employer, and country are practicing and what your business can do to reduce its carbon footprint and become more environmentally responsible. Learn about environmentally and socially responsible organizations and support them though purchasing their products, employing their services or partnering with them and be sure to keep yourself and/or your business management up to date on the ever-changing situation with our oceans
If you can, volunteer and partner with marine conservation organizations, efforts and charities and use the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who may offer even more knowledge about our oceans and how to help. Speak up about the state of our oceans and offer information to others while promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable practices in your day-to-day life and in any business dealings and decisions.
A lot has changed within our oceans and their surrounding ecosystems over the last century and our understanding of life within them and their impact on the quality of life on Earth is still being discovered. Our oceans are an awesome force of power and an endless source of amazement that gave life to every creature on our planet, now it is our turn to return the favour.
*For more information on our ocean systems, sustainable fishing and aquaculture, and what you can do to make a difference please visit any of the sources listed below
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Canary, A. (2019, April 22). 3 Ways Your Business Can Try Green Shipping with Eco-Friendly Packaging. ShipStation. https://www.shipstation.com/blog/green-shipping-eco-friendly-packaging/.
Cho, R. (2016, April 13). Making Fish Farming More Sustainable. State of the Planet. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2016/04/13/making-fish-farming-more-sustainable/.
Gibbens, S. (2019, February 28). Climate change is depleting our essential fisheries. Climate change and overfishing has shrunk global fisheries, study finds. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/climate-change-is-shrinking-essential-fisheries/.
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The Ocean Foundation. (2020, June 10). Ocean and Climate Change. The Ocean Foundation. https://oceanfdn.org/ocean-and-climate-change/.
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Plumer, B. (2019, September 25). The World’s Oceans Are in Danger, Major Climate Change Report Warns. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/climate/climate-change-oceans-united-nations.html.
Rooney, J. (2019, December 8). Eight Simple Ways Business can Save Energy. Business Green. https://www.businessgreen.com/sponsored/2308823/eight-simple-ways-business-can-save-energy.
Shahbandeh, M. (2020, September 8). Number of people working in fishing and aquaculture worldwide 2018. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/248768/number-of-persons-working-in-fishing-and-aquaculture-worldwide/.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, August 2). Climate Change Indicators: Oceans. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/oceans.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, December 17). Climate Change Indicators: Sea Surface Temperature. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-sea-surface-temperature.
van der Veeken , S. (2020, June 25). 7 Reasons why the ocean is SO important. Oceanpreneur. https://theoceanpreneur.com/sail/sailing-sustainability/seven-reasons-ocean-important/.
World Wildlife Fund. (2018, June 6). 7 ways you can help save the ocean. WWF. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/7-ways-you-can-help-save-the-ocean.
World Wildlife Fund. (2020). How climate change relates to oceans. WWF. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/how-climate-change-relates-to-oceans.
World Wildlife Fund. (2020, September 15). Something spooky is lurking in our oceans. WWF. https://wwf.ca/news-stories/something-spooky-is-lurking-in-our-oceans/.
World Wildlife Fund. (2017, January 13). Will there be enough fish to feed the world in 2050? WWF. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/will-there-be-enough-fish-to-feed-the-world-in-2050.