Education, Marine Sciences, Science, sustainability

Ocean Threats

By Jordaina Denton

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans” – Jacques Cousteau. The ocean is one of the world’s greatest mysteries; so much is known, yet so much more is left to be discovered. It is home to various forms of life, many of which we know very little about, a vessel of mystery and wonder – entire habitats of the unseen and undiscovered. 

Across the globe, the health of this majestic body has been severely compromised due to human activity. The boundless insensitivity of man has left the ocean in despair, threatening all that relies on it – life itself. 

What is happening?

As the world evolves, soaring to new heights with advancements in healthcare and technology, the ocean is simultaneously being attacked to an unprecedented degree. The ocean has been threatened in various ways primarily due to man’s selfishness and excessive production:

  1. Global warming – global warming is a phenomenon that explains the gradual, long-term warming of the earth’s temperature due to increased greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. One major effect this has on our oceans is that of the rising in sea levels; as the ice glaciers and ice sheets melt and there is the thermal expansion of seawater as a result of this warming. These issues are problematic to the earth and our waters for several reasons: 
  • Increased flooding – as a result of sea levels rising, water is getting dangerously closer to land, therefore in periods of heavy rainfall and storm surges, low-lying coastal areas are increasingly threatened by utter devastation – loss of life, drowning of crops, damaged infrastructure, etc. 
  • Loss of Habitat – organisms that rely on cold weather may lose their habitats in the future as their homes are beginning to disappear right before their eyes. As the earth continues to warm at a gradual and alarming rate, the habitats of these animals will continue to melt and will eventually become inhabitable. Leaving them destitute, vulnerable, and in search of shelter and food. All this could lead to these organisms dying out which can greatly impact their ecosystem and the biodiversity of the area as a whole. Even animals that are used to warmer climates are suffering from the increase in temperature. Sea animals are getting blisters and being boiled alive in warmer waters.
  • Invasive species – as a result of animals being displaced and needing to migrate, we will begin to see a steady increase in invasive species. These unwelcomed interlopers will move to established habitats and disrupt the ecological culture of the habitat, leaving the native species in utter despair. The native species will have a new set of predators and/or competitors for food. The issue is further propagated as the invasive species will most likely not have any natural predators in the new habitat. . As a result of this, the habitat could very well spin into complete chaos, and the prey will have to deal with powerful, unregulated predators which can lead to the demise of the prey species. 
  1. Pollution – the ocean has been turned into the world’s garbage bin, with billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants entering it on an annual basis, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Not only is this appalling, but it’s also dangerous for both humans and animals as a whole. Animals that live in/ rely on the ocean may consume garbage mistaking it for food, as we’ve all seen countless infamous videos where a turtle consumes a plastic bag mistaking it for a jellyfish. This can lead to these animals choking and dying in their habitat, a place that is supposed to supply all their needs – a truly horrifying thought. Pollution can also cause water bodies to increase in acidity essentially making it unlivable for many native species and making their water useless to humans. In addition to this, many factories, industrial plants, and ships also dump their waste into the ocean as a cheap means to get rid of it. Many countries also transport their garbage to developing/third world countries, during this transportation, garbage can be dumped into the ocean, further polluting the majestic body. For an insidious look, research the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  1. Runoff – during agricultural activities, many harmful chemicals such as pesticides are used, but it doesn’t just stay in one place. Contaminated water runs off the land, picking up other pollutants and harmful materials.  This contaminated water will eventually infiltrate water bodies such as rivers and streams which empty into our seas and oceans. This causes oxygen depletion within our waters leading to the deaths of marine animals and plants, altering the ecosystem, and diminishing biodiversity. It can throw off an entire food change and thus have cascading effects, as larger sea animals with no access to food eventually migrate, becoming invasive species in a new habitat that is then destroyed.
  2. Oil spills – thousands of oil spills happen per annum in the US alone, now imagine the world – scary isn’t it? These oil spills can occur in various ways: accidents, faulty equipment, and natural disasters to name a few, each having devastating effects. It can coat birds’ feathers, leaving them unable to fly and stripping them of their natural water-repelling ability; it can cover animals’ fur, stripping it of its insulating capabilities, and leaving them susceptible to hyperthermia. Oil also spreads on the water to produce an oil slick; this is also dangerous for several reasons: in addition to the examples above,  other marine animals can ingest the oil which can kill them or render them unhealthy for consumption. This means the ecosystem and biodiversity of the area will be affected as well as the food possibilities for human beings.

These man-made issues are especially egregious when we take into consideration the ocean’s role in our lives and livelihoods. It regulates our climate, is a massive carbon sink, and takes up over 70% of our planet, housing multiple habitats and species.

Our oceans are interconnected. A problem could start in one area and affect other habitats. Many of these effects are cascading and eventually affect life on land as well. Whether it be for food to fuel our fisheries industry or simply our quality of life as we strive to adapt to the effects of climate change, we depend on our oceans- an area that we often give little thought to and even our greatest scientific minds don’t know enough about. This lack could have devastating effects on us and our planet.

What can we do? 

  1. Advocate for ocean conservation efforts to be implemented – ‘closed mouths don’t get fed’, this famous adage rings true in these conversations as well. For there to be actual change, laws, and plans need to be implemented and the most effective way to get them is to rise and let your voice be heard. The ocean isn’t going to advocate for itself! 
  2. Implement proper garbage disposal – as stated above, pollution is a massive threat to the ocean; to effectively mitigate this threat we must take accountability and dispose of our garbage correctly; recycling what we can and reducing our output entirely. If not, massive amounts of waste can easily make their way into the ocean harming the life that relies on it- our life. 
  3. Improve our carbon footprint – due to our awful carbon footprint, global warming has been exacerbated to a harrowing scale, therefore we must take initiative to improve it. This can be done in numerous ways stretching from simple approaches such as walking, carpooling, or riding a bicycle to large-scale changes in our energy production and use. For this to happen we require active policies and incentives to drive a renewable future. So it’s even more important that we make our voices heard by calling on our politicians and corporations.
  1. Supporting environmental organizations – you can promote the messages of these organizations to spread awareness and keep yourself and others informed. Our voices are louder together! You can also donate so that these organizations (which tend to be underfunded) can continue their brave work.

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