I live just about as distant from any ocean as a person can live in the continental United States. This is one reason why I treasure any opportunity to visit a sea shore. Those very rare times when I can spend a day at an ocean beach allow me to be fully aware of my connection with the vastness of our water world.
My memories of ocean visits pale in comparison with the actual experiences. Yet, I can close my eyes and smell the sea, hear the surf, feel the misty spray, and visualize the vast expanses to the horizon. I feel both calmed and energized.
We can be thankful for everything the world’s oceans provide. Without the power of the seas, life as we know it would be impossible. The oceans deserve our deep respect and care. However, we treat them with neglect and disrespect. These amazing engines of life have had to endure our garbage and pollution. Several oceanic problems have become noticeable recently.
Lately microplastics and micro-beads used in many cosmetics products have filtered from our sewage systems, to the rivers, and ultimately to the seas where they contaminate the water and organisms.
Macro plastics have also presented much long-term harm. Billions of plastic water bottles, blister packs, eating utensils, and so forth have accumulated in state-size swirling plastic islands in the seas. The worst giant plastic mess is the size of the state of Texas, spinning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
At the time of this writing, a massive oil spill from a ruptured pipeline has fouled beaches, the ocean, and threatened wildlife along a scenic stretch of the California Coast. This is not an isolated incident. Of course, we remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill/Macondo blowout of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Crude oil gushed from the BP owned drilling site for 87 days. Very serious environmental and health problems continue to plague the Gulf of Mexico area.
Ocean dead zones are proliferating across the globe. These are areas of the sea that do not support life, due to the lack of viable oxygen. The combination of global climate change and pollution is being blamed for the increase in number and size of these. So far, more than 400 dead zones exist and the numbers are growing. Contributing factors include run-off of pesticides and fertilizers from residential and agricultural applications. Chemicals applied in the Midwest, eventually find their way into waterways then ultimately end up in the oceans.
We’ve known about the scourge of mercury pollution for several decades. Yet the world’s oceanic mercury levels are predicted to rise even higher. Mercury has already contaminated fresh water in all of the 50 United States. Officials know that coal-fired power plants are the largest industrial sources of mercury pollution in the US. If you eat seafood, your risk of chronic mercury poisoning is increased.
What you drive, how fuel efficient the vehicle is, how and how often you drive seriously affect global air pollution. The pollutants and added carbon dioxide emmission eventually end up in the seas. Through natural blending processes, the oceans absorb atmospheric gasses. The resulting mixture reduces the oceans’ pH balance. Oceanic acidification is occurring more rapidly than at any other period of time. Eventually, we will reach a tipping point where the oceans will become too acidic to support most life. Already, there are reports of massive die-offs of fish and shellfish.
A related problem is the health, or lack thereof of the world’s coral reefs. Reefs support massive amounts of vital sea life. Ultimately humans and economic interests depend upon coral reefs. Global warming, ocean acidification, and pollution are causing the death of coral organisms.
Another huge issue is that of overfishing. When too many marine animals are “harvested”, other creatures that depend on those fish to survive begin to starve because we’re taking most of their prey. Eventually, large numbers of non-food, but highly essential animals die out. The only way to recover is through rotating long-term fishing bans.
Not only do humans over-harvest, our technology, like bottom trawling, destroys the sea floor habitat. Large nets scoop up many non-food animals that are tossed aside then die. Many food and non-food species are now listed as threatened and endangered.
Adding to the overfishing conundrum is that of the killing of top of the food chain predatory sharks. It is a common practice to catch sharks, cut off their fins, then return them to the sea in a crippled state causing them to die. The fins are sold as an ingredient for soup. Because sharks are an important part of the natural food chain, their absence causes overpopulation of other fish species. A destructive chain reaction then results in harm to the ecosystem.
There are many other things we do that harm the oceans, but listing them is only one thing we can do. The best actions we can take is to remedy the problems. Utmost is conservation. If we act now, the oceans will be able to make a slow come-back.
We can also be more mindful about our consumption of plastics and how we dispose of them. There are ample sources of information that advocate for recycling and other methods of dealing with plastics.
How we transport ourselves makes a huge difference. The latest vehicle technology is helping the industry address fuel consumption issues, alternate energy sources, and elimination of pollution. We can all find ways to minimize our personal impact on the environment.
We can also watch what we eat, drink, and how it is packaged. Our consumption habits, and those of other people, quickly add up to major impacts on the world’s oceans. If we consume seafood, we affect life directly. If we use plastics, we affect life indirectly.
We celebrate World Oceans Day to remember the importance of our seas. The day also reminds us that we all have a major part to play in the preservation of the oceans. It doesn’t matter if you live in London, Mumbai, Sidney, or Nebraska. All of us affect the oceans.