The closest we can get to another world actually makes up the majority of our world. Makes no sense, right? Until you realize that this other world is comprised of our oceans, complete with their own rivers and lakes. These bodies of water make up 71 percent of Earth’s surface, and yet we’ve explored less than 5 percent of them. Even with modern technology, we still have a long way to go when it comes to truly understanding how and why we are here on this planet. Without the ocean, we would not exist. The fact that humans evolved from fish is still very obvious in our embryos, which do not look that different. For example, take the fact that we still hiccup. Hiccups came from a mechanism that helped fish breathe but serves us no purpose in the modern day.
The diversity of species that call the huge watery mass home is remarkable; scientists estimate there to be just under a million species in the ocean. Coral reefs alone cover less than two percent of the ocean, but about a quarter of marine species depend on reefs for survival. And yet coral bleaching is happening at an alarming rate, about four times as fast as in the 1980s. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae (it provides the coral with energy through photosynthesis for the coral while getting the shelter it needs in return), but with rising ocean temperatures the coral is stressed and often expels its algae and turns white. Because so many organisms depend on coral, the stress on coral is incredibly detrimental throughout many trophic levels. And that’s just one example of how this mysterious hub of life is suffering in the modern day. As glaciers melt, the sea level rises. This can be an enormous stressor on a variety of marine life. The increased water levels can make it difficult for marine life that depend on sunlight for photosynthesis, as well as coastal ecosystems like mangroves that aren’t used to sporadic water levels, threatening the organisms that rely on them. In addition, as humans pollute the oceans, sea animals such as sea turtles often mistake litter for food and cannot break down plastic in their stomachs. Also, as we burn fossil fuels, we are increasing the amount of CO2 in the oceans. As the CO2 increases, the pH of the ocean drops and it becomes more acidic. Many species of marine life aren’t used to these new conditions, especially those with shells, which can find it hard to survive. The fate of the ocean looks pretty grim.
All of this is pretty terrifying to think about, right? We can’t redo the past, but we can control the future and that applies to ocean conservation. So, next time you’re going to drive somewhere you don’t have to…think twice. Think of the lives you could save by using a reusable water bottle at all times. Check that the seafood you’re eating is sustainable. Volunteer for a beach cleanup. After all, we don’t get another ocean. As Jacques Cousteau himself said, “From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free. Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction—up, down, sideways—by merely flipping his hand. Under water, man becomes an archangel.”