Vast, threatening, magnificent; oceans cover two-thirds of the surface of our planet. Not only do they hold 97 percent of earth’s water, they provide us with food, a means of transport across the world and have a huge impact on our climate. All of this is being threatened however, with a recent report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warning that the health of the world’s oceans are deteriorating quickly.
Earth’s climate has always been affected by the presence of the ocean. This is both at a regional scale through the transport of heat and freshwater by ocean currents, as well as on a global scale through the ocean’s influence on the transformation of energy, water and carbon in the climate system. This function of the ocean has become ever more important in recent decades. With a heat capacity about 1,000 times greater than that of the atmosphere, and by absorbing excess CO2, the oceans have been shielding us from the worst effects of climate change.
However, the relationship between ocean and climate goes both ways. With oceans becoming warmer and more acidic, the detrimental effects of climate change are beginning to be seen in marine environments. Additionally, overfishing, pollution, fertiliser run-off and toxic algal blooms all continue to threaten the vast array of wildlife to which oceans provide a home. With all these factors combined, the ocean environment and everything we rely on it for is being severely threatened. The IPSO are even warning that with what they term the ‘deadly trio’ – global warming, ocean acidification and lack of oxygen – occurring in oceans today, we could be heading towards a mass extinction event.
There is, however, some slight positivity in their outlook, with Professor Dan Laffoley from a partnering organisation stating that: “These findings give us more cause for alarm – but also a road map for action. We must use it.” They are calling for governments to stop CO2 increases and improve fishing sustainability through a global enforcement agency.
However, this is no easy feat with many countries still disregarding international conventions concerning the sea, instead choosing to pursue self-interested intentions. In order to instigate meaningful and long-lasting change, it is important to raise awareness at all levels of society so that each of us can recognise our dependence on the health of the marine environment.
The planet’s oceans are not only a matter of ecological importance; they feed into countless aspects of our lives. As Mitali Kakar, director of Reef Watch Marine Conservation, put it: “The oceans are where life first began and preserving and protecting it is intrinsically linked to our survival.”