It is an often quoted and yet still remarkable statistic that seventy percent of our planet is covered with water. What we may not already realise is that an estimated that 50-80% of life can be found below the surface of the ocean, and that our oceans represent 99% of living space on the earth.
Although the marine ecosystem that includes all the seas and oceans are a self-renewing and self-regulating system, its ability to re-establish its equilibrium is being stretched beyond the limits of its natural capacity. The current situation has already for many years been internationally recognised as critical, and a proactive rather than crisis based approach is being increasingly called for in order to control water pollution and protect the ocean ecosystems.
Living oceans are essential for the health of our planet. Phytoplankton produces half of the oxygen we breathe, and the global community depends on the ocean for everything
from jobs to food and pharmaceuticals. The global trade in fish and fishery products and the ever increasing cruise and yachting industry represent the most significant examples of a livelihood that is derived directly from the oceans. However, since the oceans are perhaps the most unprotected parts of the planet this has led to both the exploitation and abuse of its resources.
One of the most extensive investigations into the current situation was carried out by the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO
), and the 27 scientists from 18 organizations in six countries who took part in this 2011 review of scientific research called for "urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health."
A spokesperson from the David Suzuki Foundation added, “What this study also shows is that we cannot look at ecosystems, species, and environmental problems in isolation. This research points out that the combined impacts of all the stressors are far more severe than what scientists might conclude by looking at individual problems…Further delay in resolving these serious problems will only increase costs and lead to even greater losses of the natural benefits oceans give to us. ”
One of the biggest threats that the ocean is up against is climate change. Global warming increases the temperature of the waters, and the excess carbon dioxide in the environment is absorbed by the ocean results in acidification of the waters
, which affects the natural ecosystem.
A recent report, published in May 2013 by the Spanish Oceanography Institute confirms that radical changes in the way we interact with the marine ecosystem still are needed. The international MedSeA project
, which is currently underway and being carried out with 6 million euros funding from the European Union and the collaboration of 22 European scientific organisations is raising concerns with its initial findings. The MedSeA research cruise is carrying out extensive tests in the Mediterranean waters, from Cadiz to Heraklion and from Heraklion to Barcelona. It began work on the 2nd May 2013, and continues until the 2nd June.
This scientific expedition aims to ascertain the current impact of water acidification and global warming. It has already revealed a higher than anticipated concentration of jellyfish and micro-plastics in the Mediterranean, even in areas which are far from the coast. These are the visible consequences of water acidification
, which have been confirmed by a detailed study involving water samples taken throughout the Mediterranean sea.
The pH of the ocean surface has already fallen 0.1 units, representing a 30 percent increase in acidity. By the end of this century, if current emission trends continue, it could fall by another 0.3 units, thereby increasing the acidity of the oceans by almost 2.5 times.If we continue on our current emissions trajectory, by 2050 ocean pH will be lower than at any point in the last 20 million years.
The increase in pH levels indicates higher acidity levels, and this affects many species of both plants and animals life need more alkaline conditions to live and thrive as nature intended. As these species start to decline, other more resistant species such as jellyfish increase in numbers, marking the first step of an imbalance whose consequences can only continue to move further away from the ocean’s natural ecosystem.
Another key factor which adds stress to the ocean ecosystem is pollution
. Waste materials generated from industrial and agricultural proceses are either directly dumped into the oceans, or indirectly end up there. International legislation has been attempting to regulate pollution for many years, with specific laws and restrictions that apply to each industry sector. For example, the boating and yachting industry recognises certain seas as Marine Protected Areas
, which require the following of a certian protocol.
As ecological awareness increases, more information is available to all those who make their living on the sea, or whose work proceses can affect the ocean. Whether on a large scale or a small scale, changing the way we interact with the oceans is vital in order to stop the further deterioration of the ecosystem balance. It is up to everyone to take responsibility for their own little drop in the ocean and to support a way of life that is aligned with protecting and living in harmony with our natural resources.
Today, on World Ocean Day, this is brought to the forefront of our attention. This focus must be maintained every day, and in every possible way, to ensure the health of our oceans and our planet.