It seems like there’s a day for everything lately: National Paperclip Day, National Tooth Fairy Day, National Pickle Day, and yes, even National Create-a-Vacuum Day.
All real, I promise. Of the thousands of recognized “day” of celebrations out there, I only get excited about a handful of them, one which is happening in June. World Oceans Day on June 8th gives everyone a chance to collaborate on ways to appreciate and protect our planet’s precious marine resources. There’s even a website dedicated to expanding the reach and impact of the day by serving as a platform for coordinating events and promoting initiatives surrounding World Oceans Day
About a month ago, I was in Singapore attending the Asian Dive Expo (ADEX) and had the privilege of being part of a panel of scientists invited to participate in an open public forum discussing major threats to our world’s waters.
Among the topics covered were plastic pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, over-fishing, and unsustainable coastal development. I’d like to note that of the six panelists, five of us were women.
The last question we had time to answer was this: “I’m not a diver, and while I can appreciate the beauty of the ocean from your images and videos, I don’t have the same understanding and reverence for it that you all do. So can you tell me, why exactly is the ocean so important to us?”
I was a bit stunned by this query. As an ocean conservationist and biologist, I am acutely aware of the unparalleled importance of a healthy ocean to our daily lives.
I often forget that our outright dependence on the big blue is not implicitly appreciated, so it took me a few seconds to mentally organize a succinct list of the myriad services provided to us by the sea – free of charge, every moment of the day.
The ocean gives us life. Without it, there would be none. Literally. The ocean is responsible for producing half of the oxygen in our atmosphere. Every other breath we take is made possible by the sea.
Or more accurately, the diverse variety of photosynthetic organisms that inhabit saltwater ecosystems give us breathable air.
The ocean regulates our climate. It’s what we call a “carbon sink”, or an ecosystem that holds more carbon than it releases.
Blue carbon habitats such as kelp forests, mangroves, and sea-grass beds absorb a third of global carbon emissions, equating to about 22 million tons daily.
The sea feeds us. Each year, the global seafood catch is around 170 billion pounds. That’s that same weight as the entire human population of China. Twenty-five percent of our global population depends on seafood for protein and we extract $21 trillion worth of food from the sea annually.
It gives us jobs. In 2014, the ocean economy contributed $352 billion to the U.S. GDP and supported 3.1 million jobs. One in six U.S. jobs is marine-related. Fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10-12% of the world’s population; that’s hundreds of millions of people.
The ocean also provides us with countless opportunities for tourism and recreation including boating, fishing, surfing, swimming, scuba diving, and more!. Three hundred and fifty million people travel annually to the coral reef coasts of the world. In addition to being quite enjoyable, science shows that being near, in, on, or under water makes us happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what we do.
I’m sure it’s amply clear by now that a healthy ocean is not optional.
This is why it’s critical for us to address the ailments that currently afflict our seas, and devise ways to minimize our impact on the natural world through changes in our lifestyles. World Oceans Day is a great way to draw attention to those threats, while also providing solutions that can be implemented to various degrees by each one of us.
World-renowned oceanographer and explorer, Dr. Sylvia Earle, was recently interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN about the devastating impact that plastics are having on our oceans, and what we can do about it. According to Dr. Earle, “the worst problem of all is ignorance. People either don’t know the magnitude of what’s going on or they don’t know why they should care.” I encourage you to watch the footage here to find out more in this CNN link.
Becoming educated about the issues and using that information to make informed choices is the way forward. It’s a privilege to work in a field where I’m surrounded by women who strive each day to create a more sustainable world, but it is up to every single one of us, regardless of career, culture, or country, to work both individually and collectively towards a better, bluer future.
There are many ways to celebrate World Oceans Day, and I hope that whatever you choose to experience this June 8th will inspire you to live every day with the sea in mind. We need to protect the ocean as if our lives depend on it, because they do.