When the groundbreaking documentary TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau first ran it was an eye opening experience for many people. Few knew how diverse the underwater ecosystems were and how everything we do on the land ultimately impacts our oceans.
Today, there are nearly 1,800 protected marine areas in the U.S. President Obama took a huge step earlier this year by creating the largest protected marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean. The decision to expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument created 490,000 square miles of protected waters. While this was monumental, there is still much that needs to be done to protect our expansive world under the ocean surface.
Top Problems Plaguing Our Coasts and Oceans
There are many manmade problems that are causing harm within the oceans and along coastlines. The three issues below are the most pressing concerns that need to be addressed immediately.
Expanding the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument meant that commercial fishing was no longer possible within the area. This is a huge win for the ocean given that marine ecologists have identified overfishing as the biggest threat to underwater ecosystems.
When fish and other marine wildlife are caught at a faster rate than they can reproduce, species begin to be depleted. The animals are also less likely to grow to full size, which can impact biodiversity. Natural habitats will begin to break down and cause complete destabilization. For centuries fisheries used responsible practices that limited the number of animals caught, but today large vessels are using GPS technology to snag entire schools of fish at once. They can also process and refrigerate the catch right on board allowing them to travel to deeper waters and spend more time out on the ocean. As a result, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has estimated that 70% of the ocean has reached full exploitation, has been over exploited, or been depleted.
Trash is generated on land, but tons of it finds its way to the coastline and out into the water. These pollutants are known as marine debris. You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is floating out in the Pacific Ocean. There’s an estimate 1.9 million microplastic bits per square mile of the patch. But far more is likely sitting on the ocean floor since scientists have found 70% of marine debris sinks.
Plastics are particularly problematic because they can entangle animals and destroy habitats. Oil, nets, and random debris left on the coastline are also top pollutants.
U.S. officials have stated that marine ecosystems and coral reefs are among the most vulnerable to the affects of climate change. The ocean contains 97% of our water supply and generates 50% of the oxygen we need to breathe. Even the slightest change to our climate can have a ripple effect that impacts the ocean in countless ways.
The most obvious impact of climate change has been the warming of ocean waters. Constant monitoring has shown that every decade since 1970 the temperature in the shallowest waters has risen by 0.18 degree Fahrenheit. That may not seem like much, but it has changed the way fish migrate, bleached coral leading to weakening and destruction, raised the sea level, and caused wetlands to become “drowned”. Because the ocean absorbs roughly 30% of carbon emissions, ocean acidification is now 30 times higher than it naturally would be.
There is much that we can learn and so much left to explore in our oceans. The unique biodiversity could hold answers to curing diseases, lessening the affects of climate change and easing world hunger. That can only happen when we preserve our oceans and interact with the ecosystems responsibly.
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