Our Oceans

Monday 16th January, 2012

There is oxygen from ocean plants in every breath we take.

Phytoplankton are tiny ocean plants that live near the surface of the water and drift with the ocean currents. Like any other plant they use sunlight and carbon dioxide - photosynthesis - to make food. With phytoplankton, a by product of this process is oxygen. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated from the sea.

Our oceans are the treasure that brings life to the planet. Yet they have reached crisis point. Over the last 50 years nearly half the coral reefs have disappeared, and we have killed - and eaten - 90% of the big fish, including tuna, dolphin, whales, turtles, sharks, etc. With only 10% of these species left in the ocean, with hundreds of millions of tons of wildlife being taken - all carbon based units, with the threat of our oceans being dead by 2050, now is the time to act. We have been taking from the oceans assets faster than nature can replace them. Now is the time to take action and to protect Earth’s most important asset, the oceans. 

As 2012 dawns Australia is on the brink of having 45% of the world’s marine parks. The Coral Sea is set to become the largest marine protection zone in the world. A million square kilometres of the Coral Sea will be protected this year.  This sounds great, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately the proposed area of protection is the eastern half of the Coral Sea. The real treasures, including 90% of the coral reefs, most of the breeding grounds for large fish, and vital habitats for turtles, whales and sharks, are to be found in the western half. The half most at risk from man. The Coral Sea has been identified by Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue as a hope spot - one of Earth’s most incredible areas of biodiversity that must be saved while there is still time. The final decision is yet to be made and the heartening aspect is the huge number of people who have petitioned the government to do the right thing and protect the entire Coral Sea. The outcome will be known later this year. It is also important to put into context what ‘the worlds largest marine park’ really means. Oceans cover 71% of Earth and currently less than 1% of the oceans are protected! 

How can it be that pristine and world significant areas such as Antarctica and the Galapagos islands - both protected - have no protection for the ocean around them? Antarctica waters are being raped of whales, krill, and fish. The Galapagos are also being ravaged by fishing.

There was some good news for the oceans in 2011 including nearly 2 million square miles of ocean being declared shark sanctuaries to protect them from finning, and Nigaloo Reef in Western Australian was granted world heritage. A reef of world significance it has been threatened countless times with destructive activities. Meanwhile, however, further north along the magnificent Kimberly coastline there are multiple disasters poised to happen. Despite the fact that this coastline is a pristine environment second only to Antarctica, the Australian government is still prepared to sacrifice it’s incredible biodiversity and beauty for economics. ( Wilderness Society) There are many examples the world over of man’s greed at the expense of the ocean.

‘With every drop of water you drink and every breath that you take you are connected to the ocean no matter where on Earth you live,’ Sylvia Earle ( Mission Blue Foundation ).

As awareness is being raised about the state of the oceans powerful marine conservation groups have been created and alliances with other environmental groups are also being formed. Some of these are listed below. There are inspiring projects being undertaken to bring awareness to the oceans - and awareness brings hope that people will take action and demand change. Projects such as One World One Ocean Foundation whose purpose is to harness the power of film, television and new media, to jump start a global movement by inspiring, educating and connecting millions of people worldwide in the common purpose of protecting and restoring oceans to health. The campaign involves travelling to more than 40 locations and all 5 oceans over the next 4 years using cutting edge IMAX and 3D digital film technologies to tell the most compelling ocean stories. ( Read about the most recent expedition here. )

Effective marine sanctuaries are a dream I have held for a long time. Many years ago we fought for marine sanctuaries along Victoria’s coast. Like most other places on Earth the areas designated for protection were a mere token, but they were a beginning. Now people from all walks of life are taking up the call for marine sanctuaries, to stop the slaughter of the big fish and to end outrageous practices such as by catch, the slaughter of dolphins and seals to ‘protect’ fish farms, the killing of sharks just for their fins, the destruction of our coral reefs, and the protection of whales from senseless slaughter. And of course there is so much more. Deep sea oil and gas drilling, oil spills, mining and other extractive activities, hundreds of millions of tons of plastic waste, millions of tons of old fishing nets, untold amounts of other waste and pollution, and trawling the bottom of the sea until it is no more than desert. 

We know all this and yet less than 1% of Earth’s oceans are currently protected from the exploits of humans. 

And then there is the growing disaster created by climate change - ocean acidification. 

Excess carbon dioxide is not only driving global warming, it’s changing ocean chemistry, making the ocean more acidic. This has huge implications for coral reefs, shell fish, fish embryos and the larvae of fish. We do not know yet what other effects there will be. 

We are undermining the food chains that shape our planets chemistry and drive the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the water cycle. Our life cycle. ( Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue Foundation

There is the call to protect 10% of Earth’s oceans. But think about it. 97% of Earth’s water is ocean and these oceans cover about 71% of the planet. While 10% is much better than less than 1%, is it going to be enough? And will it be in time?

Oceans drive the climate and weather, stabilize the temperature, and shape earth’s chemistry. A large percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea. Water from the sea forms clouds that return to land and sea as rain, sleet, and snow and provide home for about 97% of life in the world. 

Without water there would be no life on Earth. We must take action now to ensure the safety of the ocean, especially coastal waters, giving sea creatures on the edge of extinction, from the highly endangered blue fin tuna threatened by overfishing, to the blue sea slug threatened by ocean acidification, a chance to survive. With what we have learned over the past 50 years we are capable of taking the necessary steps and using our intelligence to find ways to make a difference.

Since the dawn of humanity man has had a relationship on every level with the ocean - physical, emotional and spiritual.

Mystery surrounds the origins of water. A popular theory is that some content of our planets water came from ice on meteorites that struck Earth. So, it seems, water is a gift from the heavens. Gratitude for water would be a good beginning to walking the pathway of balance and sustainability with our oceans.

Sylvia Earle advocates more exploration of the wild ocean, learning about it as much as we can so we can take better care of it. She is involved in many projects including Mission Blue and One World One Ocean. She shines a beacon of light for the oceans and is known as a living treasure because of her tireless and inspiring work.

When was the last time you stood on the cliff tops or sand dunes and gazed out across the water, breathing that marvellous fresh salty air? I do it every day, and every day I give thanks for the miracle that is the ocean.

Water is finite, essential and non substitutable. Now is the time, before it is too late we must start to care about and ensure the oceans, from coastal areas to the high seas, are protected forever. ~

We are the blue planet. As Sylvia Earle says, ‘no blue no green.’ 

Much of this journal entry has been inspired by Sylvia Earle’s TED wish. Take 18 minutes to watch it - now more relevant than ever.