World Oceans Day is June 8th. While roughly 40% of Americans live directly on our country’s shorelines, the rest of us are also dependent on the health of the world’s oceans. The oceans provide billions of people with sources of protein-rich and nutrient-rich foods, drive our climate and weather patterns, and contribute trillions of dollars to economies worldwide. Because the oceans play such a major role in the lives of, well, all walks of life on earth, World Oceans Day provides us an opportunity to express our appreciation for the seas.
But, just in case there are some of you out there that still need convincing that our oceans are important, here are some major ways that the oceans could change our lives as we know them:
Sea level rise contributes to climate change
The rise in sea levels, even by a seemingly small amount, has been linked to a number of catastrophic climate events. Beach erosion, flooding, habitat loss, later winters, and earlier springs can all be linked to a rise in sea level. It has been documented time and again that the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in carbon emissions contributes to sea-level rise.
How you can help
Reduce your carbon footprint by swapping one carbon emitting activity each week with a non-carbon emitting activity. Can you walk or ride your bike to a friend’s house instead of driving? Can you use public transportation for a trip to the bank or the store? Swapping just one trip per week will dramatically reduce the amount of carbon making its way into the atmosphere, not to mention it will cut down on the amount of air pollutants we breathe.
Overfishing could leave over a billion people searching for protein
Over a billion people worldwide are dependent on fish as their principal source of protein. Fish are considered the last wild food available to humans, and this resource was once considered infinite. However, today “the world’s fisheries seem to have reached their maximum potential, and given that three-quarters of all fish populations are fully exploited or overexploited, there will probably be no significant increases in total catches in the future.” If fish populations are no longer available for widespread consumption, many people around the world will see a dramatic decrease in their protein intake, causing a wide variety of health concerns.
How you can help
Make informed decisions when you purchase fish and seafood. Swap out one meal per month with a non-oceanic protein source, purchase your fish responsibly by finding a certified fishery or using the Seafood Watch pocket guide, and eat fish that are lower on the food chain.
Coral reefs are being bleached, and that’s bad
When you think of coral reefs, we bet that vivid images of bright colors and thriving ecosystems probably come to mind. However, hot summers can contribute to what is called coral bleaching—literally, the bright colored coral turns to a washed out white. Since coral get their bright colors from algae living within their tissue, and since those algae can only withstand certain temperatures, the sun’s heat can cause a dire circumstance for coral and render them dead. Coral play a vital role in the health of our oceans—they play home to a wide variety of marine life, they bolster the economies of tourist-reliant areas, and they protect shorelines all across the globe. (P.S. This information from this article, and it’s a worthwhile read if you want to read the whole thing.)
How you can help
Much of the world’s coral bleaching is also linked to an increase in carbon emissions, so repeat the steps listed to help reduce sea level rise.
The Pacific Ocean plays home to a new island… of garbage
Image source: natgeoeducationblog
Literally. A giant collection of garbage deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has taken up residence in the Pacific Ocean. However, “the idea of a ‘garbage patch’ conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are usually made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics.” Now, this is bad for a number of reasons. In addition to being super ugly, this debris in our oceans kill many animals who eat the garbage, block sunlight from reaching plankton, and disrupt entire food webs.
How you can help
Reduce the amount of trash you produce, particularly trash coming from plastic items. Keep a refillable stainless steel water bottle that you can use instead of purchasing plastic water bottles. Bring your reusable bags to the grocery store instead of taking your items home in plastic bags. There are a number of ways to reduce your consumption of products, thereby reducing the amount of waste you contribute to our world’s oceans.
While some of these issues can seem terrifying and insurmountable, rest assured that there are a number of organizations seeking to make a positive impact on our seas. Groups like Oceana, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocean Conservancy, and of course World Oceans Day are making tremendous contributions to our seas and the lives of those reliant on them. Celebrate this year’s World Oceans Day by making a small change to your behavior, educating yourself about the oceans, or supporting an organization you admire. And rather than allowing World Oceans Day to come and go, carry its legacy with you throughout the year to make a lasting impact on the future of our oceans.