Author's Thoughts on Marine Conservation
When I was a child, the sea seemed vast and abundant. But today, the oceans of my childhood no longer exist. I am not a scientist, but I am an observer, and sailing long distances has given me an acute awareness of the negative impact that human behavior has had on our oceans. In my lifetime, I have witnessed startling changes in water temperature and rapid decrease in the quantity and diversity of marine life. Pollution is ubiquitous, and critical habitats such as coral reefs are being adversely affected, in some cases beyond the point of recovery.
Agricultural runoff, mining, aquaculture (e.g. farmed salmon), unrestricted coastal development, and unregulated manufacturing practices are just some sources of pollution that threaten the health of the oceans and contaminate the food we eat from the sea.
Nutrient-rich fertilizers discharged in agricultural run-off are causing dead zones - low oxygen (hypoxic) areas in the ocean where life simply cannot survive - causing entire ecosystems to collapse. Mercury and other heavy metals from power plants, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, sewage, oil, and plastic are also ending up in our oceans. Even residue from the pharmaceuticals we ingest is found in the fish we eat. A United Nations Environment Program study estimated that every square mile of the ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. I have been thousands of miles away from land and have seen the floating debris.
More than a million seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die from ingesting photodegraded microplastics, which are now part of the food chain. A study from Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depth of the North Pacific ingest roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic per year. Do you know what happens to your discarded plastic waste?
Although some fisheries are successfully managed, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are taking a catastrophic toll on world fisheries. Industrial fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, destroy critical habitats by dragging chains and nets over the sea floor, essentially wiping out entire ecosystems.
It is estimated that industrial fishing fleets discard 27 million tons of non-targeted fish and other sea life every year. In some fisheries, up to ten pounds of life is discarded for every pound of seafood that makes it to market. This intolerable waste is known as by-catch. Undersized fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, and sharks are just some of the species being discarded, dead or dying, with each haul. Seabirds are also affected. According to Carl Safina of Blue Ocean Institute, an estimated hundred thousand albatross are killed annually by longliners alone.
Over 90 percent of the seafood brought to market in the U.S. is imported. According to an a National Resources Defense Council report, nearly every foreign fish product sold in the U.S. has been caught in a way that violates U.S. federal marine mammal protection laws. It is worth thinking about where your seafood comes from and supporting sustainable American fisheries.
There is no longer any doubt that climate change is playing a role in our rapidly changing world. It has been scientifically documented that increases in temperature from natural weather fluctuations exacerbated by industrialized increase of CO2 emissions are leading to potentially catastrophic depletion of marine life.
CO2 is absorbed in the ocean as a natural process, but increased levels of CO2 reduce calcium carbonate; the sea becomes acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, the reduction in calcium carbonate prevents creatures like shellfish - oysters, mussels, crab and shrimp - from forming shells. In fact, existing shells start to dissolve. Coral reefs, home to the greatest biodiversity of ocean life, die. The smallest ocean animals at the base of the ocean food web, including zooplankton, cannot survive, sea life further up the food chain - fish, mammals, seabirds - will also perish. No food, no life! One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. The implications are obvious.
What Can One Person Do?
Humanity as a whole may be responsible for the degradation of our oceans, but I believe that we are capable as individuals of responding to this crisis. How? Each one of us can make lifestyle choices that reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our own contributions to pollution, and educate our children. Her are some thoughts on ways to begin:
Vote With Your Dollars
- Stop buying plastic water bottles.
- Don't use plastic bags.
- Don't use Styrofoam or polstyrene products.
- Eat only sustainable seafood and support sustainable fisheries.
- Eliminate toxic chemicals from your homes; encourage your workplace to do the same.
- Avoid non-organic fertilizers and pesticides.
- Buy local, organic produce and products.
- Review your transportation options.
Finally, and very significantly, we can all get involved, becoming educated - and passionate - advocates for our oceans, the life-support system of our planet. Be aware of your own carbon emissions and share your knowledge with others. Contact and support marine conservation efforts locally and nationally. Following is just a partial list of organizations that I respect.