Feature Story: Protect The Ocean

Feature+Story%3A+Protect+The+Ocean

 

Around 71% of our Earth is covered in water and about 96.5% of our water is held in the oceans. The ocean is responsible for about 50% of the oxygen in the air and it’s an important source of food for millions of people. It’s incredibly important to our environment and provides a home to billions of marine species. However, the ocean is suffering and we as people are suffering with it.

The Coral Reefs

Home to at least 25% of all known marine species and harbors the planets most diverse and valuable ecosystems. The coral reefs provide important cultural, economic, recreational, and social benefits to millions of people. They work to buffer shorelines against damage from storms while astonishing people with their vibrant colors and wide array of marine life. Unfortunately, they are one of the most sensitive ecosystems globally and are under a lot of stress from climate change, declining water quality, overfishing, pollution, and unsustainable coastal development. Rising temperatures and tourism threaten the reefs. Tourism can negatively affect the reefs due to destruction, littering, and overfishing. Between the years 2009 and 2018, 14% of the world’s coral reefs were lost. By 2050, it is estimated that around 70-90% will be lost. If the coral reefs were to die, the economy would suffer. Fisheries and tourism provide a lot for the economy and without the reefs, fish population would decline, and people would stop traveling to see the reefs. The coral reefs absorb nearly half of the carbon emissions released into the air. Without them, global warming would be a lot worse. When the corals are placed under stress, they release the microscopic symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, from their tissues. This causes them to turn white, earning the term “coral bleaching”. In order to recover, the corral needs to re-absorb the zooxanthellae, but this is proven difficult with the constant stress they experience. Coral reefs are resilient and can recover if we protect the marine environment and create the right conditions for recovery. Local anthropogenic pressures should be reduced through legislation, education, and other means. There needs to be climate action and a reduction in the localized threats against coral reefs.

Overfishing

Overfishing is one of the driving forces of the decline in ocean wildlife populations. Overfishing is when vessels catch fish faster than fishes can repopulate. On average, about 30% of fish stocks commercially are overfished and over 60% of fish stocks are fully fished. Overfishing can impact entire ecosystems. It can affect the size of the remaining fish along with how they reproduce and the speed that they mature. When too many fish are taken out of the ocean too fast, it creates imbalances that erode the food web and depletes other marine species. There has been a recorded decrease in marine species of 39% over the past 40 years.

GreenPeace is an organization that works to create safe spaces in the ocean for marine life.

Many marine species such as sharks and sea turtles have been added to the endangered species list because of overfishing. If this wasn’t already bad enough, overfishing is closely tied to bycatches, which is the accidental capture of unwanted sea life. This results in the unnecessary loss of billions of fish and sea creatures.  Overfishing is made worse with the practice of illegal fishing and trading. Some of the worst impacts on the ocean are caused by pervasive illegal fishing that is estimated to be 30% catch or more for high value species. It is estimated that illegal and unregulated fishing nets steal up to $36.4 billion each year. They are able to get away with it because of the lack of tracking between catcher and consumer. There are also other unethical fishing practices that are frowned upon but still used. One being the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and disposing of the rest of the body. Overfishing doesn’t just affect the ocean, it also affects billions of people who rely on fish for protein. People who live in largely developing, coastal communities depend on the fishing industry for their livelihoods. The increasing demand for fish around the world means more businesses and jobs are dependent on a decreasing stock of fish. Jobs and coastal economies will be majorly impacted if fish were to disappear. People who make a living off of catching, selling, and buying fish are working to improve how the world manages and conserves its oceans by fighting for new policies that make overfishing illegal and stronger regulations on illegal fishing practices.

Climate Change

Climate change has had an extreme effect on the ocean. Warmer temperatures melt glaciers and permafrost which in turn frees legacy pollutants from the ice. Warmer waters increase the number and expand the range of marine microbes that can cause diseases to sea creatures and aquatic plants. The higher the level of carbon dioxide in the air, the more carbon the ocean absorbs. The result of this is more acidic waters that erodes coral reefs and calcium that contains organisms like plankton. Ocean acidification also increases the toxicity of certain heavy metals and chemicals. This makes it far more likely for people to contract diseases of illnesses from consuming seafood.

Pollution

Ocean pollution is a clear and present danger to both marine and human health. Pollution stems primarily from human activities with more than 80% of ocean pollution coming from land-based sources. Ocean pollution is a complex mixture of plastic waste, manufactured chemicals, agricultural run-off, mercury, petroleum wastes, and biological threats like harmful algal blooms. Plastic waste makes up about 80% of the pollution in the ocean. It breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastics that absorb harmful chemicals. These microplastics often get ingested by fish and shellfish that pass on the harmful toxins to humans when they eat seafood. Mercury pollution in oceans is mostly sourced from coal combustion. When coal is burned, mercury enters the atmosphere and eventually gets washed down into the ocean where it contaminates the fish. This is why pregnant people are advised to not eat seafood while pregnant. If they ingest mercury poisoned fish, the mercury can damage their child’s developing brain, resulting in IQ loss and behavior problems. Mercury contaminated fish also poses health risk in adults because it increases the risk for heart disease and dementia. The packaging for cleaning products and pesticides also enter the ocean and cause many problems for marine and human life. Humans and fish can be exposed to harmful chemicals that have a wide range of health effects in people such as cardiovascular disease, developmental and neurobehavioral disorders, metabolic disease, immune dysfunction, endocrine disruption, and many different types of cancer. Algae is an essential part of the marine food web and the ecosystem. It produces oxygen and absorbs harmful pollutants in the water. If algae absorbs too much too fast, it can become toxic and turn into harmful algal blooms. Harmful algal blooms occur when toxin-producing algae grows excessively in the ocean. People get exposed to these harmful blooms through consuming contaminated seafood and it causes health problems like dementia, amnesia, other neurological damage, and death. It is no surprise that ocean pollution causes over one million marine life deaths each year. Sea animals mistake plastic for food or get caught in oil spills or become severely sick from toxic chemicals in the water. The impacts of pollution disproportionally affects low-income countries, coastal fishing communities, people on small island nations, indigenous populations, and people living in the high arctic. These groups produce little pollution themselves and rely on the ocean for food.

The thing about pollution is that it can be prevented. With the right laws, policies, technology, and enforcement actions, the largest sources of pollution can be targeted and reprimanded for damaging our biggest ecosystem. Coal combustion should be eliminated to reduce ocean bound mercury pollution. The world should transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs. The Marine Protected Areas, sometimes called the national parks of the ocean, should be expanded to protect critical ecosystems, protect vulnerable fish stocks, and improve human health and well-being. Big ocean polluters like Coca-Cola and Nestle should have bigger consequences for their pollution. Plastic use around the world needs to be reduced and more environmentally friendly alternatives need to be expanded upon.

Single Use Plastics

There’s an idea that environmental activists have been preaching that sounds like a good idea at first but proposes a whole new set of problems. The argument is about single use plastics. Single use plastics are a category of plastic production when items are meant to be used for a short amount of time before being thrown away. This includes things like plastic bottles, plastic straws, plastic packaging materials, plastic shopping bags, etc. Environmental activists call for a complete ban of all single use plastics because they are a huge source of pollution in the ocean. At first glance this seems like a really good idea and simple idea, but it excludes people with disabilities who use disposable plastics because they need to.

Let me elaborate, many people with disabilities and special needs rely on straws to consume food and beverages for hydration and sometimes nutrition as well. They would be unable to eat or drink anything offered at public places or would have to carry around their own straws. This, once again, places the burden of accommodations onto people with disabilities. Another scenario that is likely to occur is that people with disabilities would have to explain their disabilities in order to get their accommodations, creating yet another roadblock for them in their everyday lives. People with disabilities know that alternatives for straws exist, but they will not work for everyone. Paper straws often fall apart quickly, silicon straws aren’t flexible, reusable straws need to be washed or they harbor harmful bacteria and people with disabilities already struggle with that task, and metal straws pose a safety risk while being hard and inflexible. People with disabilities also use plastic utensils and plates, disposable wipes, disposable medical equipment, reusable bags, etc. People with disabilities are not on the opposite side of the battle to save the environment. They are not the bad guys. Being green doesn’t always line up with people’s accessibility needs. When making laws and policies to protect the environment, we can’t leave people with disabilities behind.

The ocean and all of its inhabitants need to be protected and preserved while still paving the way for human advancement. New regulations and policies need to be implemented to prevent mass amounts of pollution and overfishing. No fish or person will be left behind in our journey to a better future.