“We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on them. Because they do.” Sylvia Earle
She calls herself the ambassador of the fish. Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist and also the first woman to become chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Time magazine named her the first Hero of the Planet. With a record of walking on the sea bed, deeper than anyone before, she holds the title “Her Deepness”. I admire her work and her passion. She produces the facts: Our oceans are endangered by our actions and we have to do something about it. In a speech she urges us to protect this fragile ecosystem with all we have.
Nowadays, 40% of the world population live in coastal areas. Climate change causes a sea level rise which endangers the livelihood of whole societies. We can counteract global warming, the sea level rise, the acidification of the oceans, and the extinction of marine species – by cutting our emissions.
With my friend I discussed why people haven’t thought climate change earlier. “They took it for granted, just as we take our water for granted right now.” I was sipping on my cup of tea. Stared into the cup. She was right. We don’t think long-term. Our economies even less. Short-term benefits. Maximal profit.
Our professor told us that in former times salmons were fed to pigs for nutrients. Today, 90% of the big fish in the oceans are gone. Only 10% of the tuna is left. Take the average pig or chicken you eat. It doesn’t get very old. A few months? Maybe one year? An average tuna has to grow for 10-14 years to mature. With today’s fishing strategies the tuna we fish get younger and younger. There are no old ones left.
Tuna are very large carnivores. They have eaten a lot of fish in their lives. Pigs eat concentrated feed. They didn’t munch on thousands of fish before you bought them packaged in little pieces. “Fish are much more valuable alive than dead.” Sylvia Earle said. Which is true for everything in our planet’s environment.
The currently used fishing techniques are designed to having by-catch. If you catch a large fish with today’s technique, there are 100 other fish or marine animals on the fishing rod. We take the fins of sharks who are still alive and throw the animals back into the ocean. 50% of the coral reefs are gone. Destroyed by humans. We are taking and taking and taking.
Polluting the oceans
We are also putting stuff back into the ocean. The entanglement of marine animals in plastics has increased by 40% in the last decade. “Reports revealed that all known species of sea turtles, about half of all species of marine mammals, and one-fifth of all species of sea birds were affected by entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.” The study was done on 663 species.
We are not only polluting the water by plastics. We drill deep holes in the ground. We rip the sea bed apart. We let oil spill for weeks, months. We dig for minerals. We put hazardous waste into the oceans. We get rid of our atomic waste. Oceans are our dumping ground. Small fish eat those substances. They are eaten by bigger fish. Toxics accumulate. Until we have them on our plates.
The importance of oceans
Life started in the oceans. They contain 97% of the earth’s water. They drive a huge water cycle providing us with precipitation. They keep the earth cool. Water has an incredible heat and carbon storage capacity. Oceans deal with our high emissions. I don’t know how long they will be able to do so. CO2 turns into carbonic acid. This damages and kills corals. It messes with fragile ecosystems. Oceans drive our climate. The system is on the brink to fall apart. It will take us with it.
Seas are complex, diverse and sensitive ecosystems. We need to take better care of them. As W. H. Auden said: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
(This is an edited article I wrote for last year’s Nanowrimo over on my other blog)