The United Nations believes that the world's countries should protect and restore marine ecosystems and practice fishing sustainably. Sustainable fishing means allowing stocks to recover and includes protecting important marine habitats. In addition to the impact of commercial fishing, the rise of temperatures as a result of climate change is also harming marine ecosystems.
The ocean is the largest habitat on earth, covering approximately 71% of the earth’s surface and holding 97% of the planet’s surface water. It is a major contributor to all forms of life. It also provides living creatures with resources to subsist such as food, energy, materials, means of transport and so on. The ocean is one of the best tools that can be used in the battle against climate change. For this and many other reasons it is crucial for us to know the importance of these bodies of water.
Here are the main contributions of the oceans:
The air we breathe: the ocean produces over half of the world's oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.In addition, the ocean absorbs other types of gases from the atmosphere, meaning that the ocean helps control global warming by functioning as the earth’s filter.
The ocean has a cycle known as the conveyor belt that transports heat from the equator to the poles (warm waters to cold waters), this means that the ocean keeps the balance of the earth’s temperature.
Food, for both humans and animals. According to the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations "Fishing and fish farming support the livelihoods and families of some 660 to 880 million people, that’s 12 percent of the world’s population."
A vast number of the earth's species live in the ocean. Aproximately 80% of the world's biodiversity is in the oceans, including 20,000 species of fish.
Medicine. While most medicines have been created from sources found on land, scientists believe there exists a great potential in the ocean for creating new medicines.
While the oceans provide many benefits for our species, human activity has already negatively affected all parts of the ocean. Climate change, non-sustainable resource extraction, land-based pollution, and habitat degradation are threatening the productivity and health of the ocean. Already half of the Great Barrier Reef has been lost. Considering wastewater dumping and plastic waste, we treat the Earth’s largest habitat as a trash can.
The majority of scientific research suggests human activity is the biggest threat to nature. Over 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. The effect of human activities has been so intense that over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year because of plastic debris in the ocean (UNESCO Facts & Figures on Marine Pollution). Currently, it is estimated that there are 100 million tons of plastic already in the oceans.
Overfishing is also a problem in our oceans since the population growth of many species is too slow to ensure the survival of the species.The United Nations has warned that humans are harming the planet in five major ways including overfishing ⅓ of species. Commercial fishing implements many techniques that result in an excessive amount of "bycatch". Bycatch refers to other fish and marine life that are caught in fishing nets even though these animals are not the intended target. As a result, much of what is caught is dumped back into the ocean with 17-22% of the total U.S. catch discarded every year. Recent studies have shown that there has already been a 71% decline in shark and ray populations.
Industrial waste, chemicals used in agriculture, oil spills, and other forms of human contamination cause alterations in ocean chemistry. The alteration of many oceanic processes is threatening many species of marine animals that cannot survive in higher temperatures. The increasing temperatures and amount of pollutants in the oceans is allowing diseases to flourish among many species, raising more risk of their extinction.
What can we do?
Be thoughtful when visiting coastal areas
The simplest way to help protect marine life is to follow local environmental protection laws whenever we visit beaches or coastal areas. Many beaches are turtle nesting sites during certain periods of the year. During these periods visitors to beaches should nor set campfires, play loud music, among other activities, to avoid harming turtle hatchlings and allow turtles to nest. In general we should not feed nor disturb wildlife.
Stop using single-use plastics
If you have ever participated in a beach cleanup, you have witnessed first hand the large impact single-use plastics have in our oceans. Single-use plastics and other forms of human waste contribute to the deaths of many species of marine life and threaten the viability of marine ecosystems. We can help reduce the amount of waste in the oceans by reducing our use of single-use plastics such as straws and bags. Consider buying alternatives to these plastic products such as using a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing plastic bottles.
Use mineral sunscreen instead of chemical sunscreen
Most people are unaware of the negative effects most sunscreen brands have on marine life. Sunscreens include some chemicals which scientists have discovered can bleach corals and reduce fertility in fish, among other harmful side effects. Luckily mineral sunscreens are safe for marine life and can be purchased in most department stores. Mineral sunscreens brands include Blue Lizard, Bare and many others.
Support conservation efforts
We must raise awareness about the environmental issues affecting our oceans. Support your local environmental organizations as they push the passing of new laws by state and federal authorities. Many nationwide organizations dedicated to protecting the oceans include Oceana, World Wildlife Fund and The Plastic Pollution Coalition.