World Oceans Day on Friday, June 8 draws attention to the 70 percent of our planet covered in water and the animals and plants that call the oceans home.
The New Frontier
While it’s been relatively easy for man to explore the terrestrial side of our world, when it comes to our oceans, exploration has been more challenging. But now, technology is finally making it possible to explore the depths, breadths and diversity that up until so recently have remained undiscovered.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only 5 percent of the oceans have been explored. This is the new frontier for adventurers and scientists, going where no man (or woman) has gone before. In March, filmmaker James Cameron completed the deepest solo dive ever attempted, cruising the bottom of the 6.8-mile-deep (11-kilometer-deep) Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth in his “vertical torpedo” sub.
Oceans are the Heart of Our Planet
Oceans support all life on earth. They regulate the weather and temperature, are home to tiny organisms called plankton that produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and oceans are the world’s original highway system. On top of that, the oceans teem with wonderfully beautiful, and often weird-looking, animals and plants, with more being discovered every day.
But the world’s oceans are under attack – from people, overfishing, acidification from increased carbon dioxide absorption, habitat destruction, pollution and warming seas, plus a host of other threats.
The Trickle Down Effect
More and more, it is becoming obvious that every action on the planet is interconnected. For instance, a recent study of coral reefs off Kenya has shown that overfishing in the open seas can radically affect the reefs. In areas of overfishing, sea urchins proliferated, damaging the coral surfaces and the crustose coralline algae, which are essential to reef health. In Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the scientists found far fewer urchins, healthy coral and an abundance of fish. When reefs die, there is a domino effect as subsequent species die off until all that is left is a dead reef and no life around it.
Marine Protected Areas
This year marks the 40th year of a number of policies that protect American waters and oceans. They include the Coastal Zone Management, Marine Mammal Protection, Clean Water and National Marine Sanctuaries Acts.
Around the world, there are over 4,000 protected marine areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines an MPA as “Any area of intertidal or sub-tidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment.”
There are also Marine Reserves, a specific type of marine protected area, where activities that remove animals and plants or alter habitats are all prohibited, except as needed for scientific monitoring. Only 0.8 percent of the world’s oceans are protected and 0.08 percent is in marine reserves.
In various parts of the world, countries are creating sanctuaries for specific species. The Pacific nations of Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands as well as Guam, which is a U.S. territory, have created shark sanctuaries to inhibit the decimation of sharks slaughtered for the shark fin trade in Asia.
Youth: the Next Wave for Change
This year, the World Oceans Day theme, “Youth: the Next Wave for Change,” is focusing on inspiring the younger generations. With events planned around the world and activities designed for all age groups, you are sure to find ways to make a difference.
Sylvia Earle spoke eloquently in her prizewinning TED talk, making a wish for all of us.
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”
About World Oceans Day
In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Government of Canada first proposed the concept for a “World Ocean Day.” As a result of a United Nations General Assembly resolution passed in December 2008, World Oceans Day is now officially recognized by the UN as June 8 each year.