Thinking about a planet without healthy oceans would be thinking about a world without life. The ocean is magnificent and stunning, but also fundamental to our survival and advancement. Our civilization’s history has been shaped by the ocean and the resources it offers. The breaths we take are gifts from the ocean. The ocean provides us with food, recreation, and wealth. Almost half of the world’s population depends on the ocean for sustenance, jobs, and cultural activities. It is a symbol of both our industriousness and achievements, but also our powerlessness. One cannot deny the importance of the ocean, yet we find ourselves harming it to the point of no return.
Over the last few decades, human impacts on the ocean have increased. Climate change and ocean acidification threaten reefs and fisheries worldwide. Rising sea level and pollution threaten coastal communities. The ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the greenhouse gasses we have emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It has “shielded” us from the devastated effects of global climate change, but the ocean is getting weaker, and warmer temperatures are being felt worldwide. We face these threats with urgency and search for solutions.
Every four years, IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), delegates and leaders from around the world, meet to discuss the state of our planet and how to move towards a sustainable future. Held during the first week of September, this year’s conference was titled a “Planet at the Crossroads.” It is so fitting in describing the ocean. Our planet, but more specifically, the state of the ocean is at a crossroads. What we choose to do now will dictate our future. If we don’t take swift action now, we will deny future generations of the ocean and its wealth. The time that we have to preserve our ocean and resources is running out. Sylvia Earle, famed oceanographer and conservationist, said it best, “Our past, our present, and whatever remains of our future depend on what we do now.”
It is so easy to be pessimistic about the future of the ocean, but there is so much hope to be felt too. Over the last few months, new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been implemented making huge strides for ocean conservation. World leaders have decided upon a goal of 30% ocean protection by 2030, pledging more than $5.3 billion for conservation. There is immense motivation occurring in regards to protecting our oceans; that is encouraging and inspiring. Ocean conservation has traditionally relied on a narrow community of scientists and advocates for the environment. Now, when the ocean needs us most, conservation is the focus of businesses, financial institutions, indigenous groups, and youth. Ocean conservation is happening every day, by everyday people.
Many people feel like their actions do not have a direct impact on the ocean. This mindset needs to be challenged. Each one of us has a footprint on this planet, affected by factors such as our transportation habits, food choices, and even our cleaning or beauty products. Conservation starts with small, simple acts. Participate in beach clean-ups and regularly recycle. Reduce the plastic use and choose to eat sustainably caught/farmed seafood. Take shorter, cooler showers and choose to walk and not drive, when the destination permits. One of the most important things we can do as individuals is to make good decisions on what we buy as consumers. Our choices of brands and products are ultimate “votes” for companies and corporations. Our votes can push companies to make environmentally-right choices and products. All of these single, small acts will create movements.
Ocean conservation will promise future generations to fall in love with the ocean and utilize it properly for its resources. Conservation will give children in the future the opportunity to swim in the sea and fall in love with its wonders, just like we once did. While we are a terrestrial species, our connection to the ocean is undeniable. We all must take even just one step towards protecting the ocean, whether it be picking up plastic at the beach or educating our friends about human threats to the ocean. We must protect the ocean like our lives depend on it…because they do.