Our Hot Mess: Nemo needs help (part two)

Now is finally the update we have all been waiting for! To recap part one from three weeks ago, the oceans are the Earth’s heart and lungs, vital to survival. Especially we as humans are utterly dependent on the welfare of our oceans for physical and environmental health. All of this is interesting, I know, but why exactly do we need to be talking about the state of the big ponds? Well they’re in trouble. And I don’t say this to sound dramatic nor overreactive. I’m simply trying to put things into perspective by providing accurate, informed statements in hopes that you find it as alarming as I do and care enough to want to help.

There are eight primary threats to the well-being of our oceans today: climate change, aquaculture, oil and gas, pollution, shipping, inadequate protection, tourism and development, and overfishing.

Climate change is really hurting the oceans on a chemical level, bleaching the coral reefs and acidifying all of the waters. When the waters are too warm and there is too much photosynthesis occurring, the corals expel the algae that gives them color in order to reduce the amount of oxygen being produced through that photosynthesis process. This is the act of coral bleaching. In regards to ocean acidification, the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans and put through a process that lowers the pH of the water. This is having drastic effects on the shells of sea creatures; the acidity has negative impacts on shell development. For all you non-shell experts, this causes young shellfish to corrode before maturing, killing billions of organisms.
How is the Ocean Becoming More Acidic?” -- Conservation in a Changing Climate
Aquaculture is just a fancy name for fish farming, and it poses serious environmental risks and sustainability challenges. The density-packed fish give off waste and nutrients that cause detrimental algal blooms and therefore less oxygen. And because they are so densely packed, disease and infection spreads quickly to not only the caged in areas, but also the wild fish populations nearby. The wild fish populations also can be hurt by having the non-native farmed fish accidentally escape and displace the native species.

Oil and Gas is a pretty simple one if you think about it. Deposits are under the seafloor. We want the deposits. We drill into the deposits. We disrupt countless ecosystems in the process. Some leakage is bound to happen during extraction. And there is always the possibility of a giant, traumatic oil spill that kills off miles of sea life.
Massive floating rubbish islands from Japan tsunami spotted on Pacific from The Telegraph
Pollution is another obvious one. There are so many versions of pollution to find in our oceans: untreated sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, garbage, plastics. These are either being dumped directly or through the atmosphere. And there exists a horrible place named The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: an area of pollution gathered by currents that is estimated to be anywhere from the size of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States. And as the World Wildlife Fund so aptly characterizes it: “This pollution is harming the entire marine food chain - all the way up to humans.”

Shipping is similar to the previous two. Heavy traffic on the oceanic freeways always indicates a trail to be followed. A trail of oil spills, ship groundings, anchor damage, propellor scars, the dumping of wastes - oil, trash, ballast water - into the sea. All of these are endangering marine habitats worldwide.

Inadequate protection is another big threat to the wellbeing of our oceans, and it should be such a simple thing to help with. The oceans cover roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface and are unbelievably important to the health of the planet, and yet we have protected less than 1% from fishing and other obstructions. Compounding the situation, even those that are protected in the eyes of the law are seldom actually protected. So we need dramatic changes to laws that focus on ocean protection. For without more marine protected areas, the biodiversity could be completely ruined in a short amount of time. One study suggests that due to a lack of biodiversity, seafood species may be gone by the year 2048.

Tourism and development tends to hit home. I’m sure most people love the beach, myself included. Nothing quite beats a road trip to the Outer Banks with sandals and bathing suits. But our coastal development and recreation is deeply straining the marine ecosystems nearby. Slowing down and possibly ceasing coastal development is key to improving the situation.
Mauritania signs “win-win” fishing agreement with EU” from The North Africa Post
And now for the topic I’m personally most interested in: overfishing. Overfishing is the primary threat to the oceans. Why am I so interested in this? Because it is completely in our control, the consumers’ control. 90% of the world’s fisheries are already fully exploited or overfished. This causes the food webs to fall apart. Not to mention that around 300,000 dolphins, whales, and porpoises are unintentionally killed in fishing trawlers every year. So what would make the fishing companies fish less? Stop buying the product. Lower the demand.

Yes, I know there’s so much to upon which to think, process, and formulate opinions. But I should hope that you now feel the drive to help out with our crying oceans. Work on the simple things to start. Eat less seafood. Carpool to lower carbon dioxide emissions. Turn off lights. Eat fewer animal products in general. Turn off water when you’re not using it. There are so many ways for YOU to help! Please consider doing your part in the fight for happy, healthy oceans.

Don't be trashy.

--Elke Arnesen, LSNews.org Columnist

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