It's clear that many people have either forgotten or never learned how important the oceans are to human survival. Maybe these people think of the oceans as simply a means by which to get to other continents, wonderful places to fish or take a cruise on, or just giant marine-life aquariums too big to possibly be significantly damaged by human beings.
Yes, the oceans are big--in fact, they comprise rougly 3/4 of surface area on planet earth. Their size, however, has only been great inspiration for those who have been working very hard to turn this vast container of mostly salty water into a giant dumpster.
Accordingly, much of the waste produced by roughly 8 billion people has been ending up in said garbage container.
This might have been okay if the oceans (as some people mistakenly think) were indeed limitless in their capacity to withstand environmental abuse. Slowly but progressively (over several centuries), though, the oceans are finally showing signs that what they can tolerate is indeed limited.
Although not a complete list, here are 10 eye-opening, globally-significant, and life-as-we-know-it-altering-capacity symptoms or signs that our oceans are seriously "sick" or undergoing changes that may dramatically affect life (most specifically, human beings) on this planet:
1. Species diversity being greatly compromised in the Sargasso Sea. You may have read the prize-winning novel Wide Sargasso Sea--if so, you may perhaps be familiar with the Sargasso Sea, a rather large, Sargassum-seaweed-cushioned section of the Atlantic Ocean. If not, this is a particularly important area of the ocean which has traditionally hosted rich, well-diversified groups of species. In essence, this is the best example of our ocean's version of swamp lands--i.e., areas where many species have found refuge and where they have flourished, when left unmolested by humans or major natural disasters.
Major changes for the worse are being noted in this sea by marine biologists and others. Simply put, if this is an ongoing, not-likely-to-be-changed development, this catastrophe may be yet another domino (like the extinction of bees) which may eventually spell disaster for all life on planet earth.
2. Great reduction of coral sea beds. Any fan of marine biology or oceanography is familiar with the importance of coral reefs. These are the equivalent of our rain forests--as such, they are thriving, highly-diversified communities of sea creatures and plants. In fact, you can almost say that, if you could take the pulse of the oceans (to detemine its cardiovascular health--were such a thing applicable), one great way would be to monitor or examine their coral beds or reefs.
Well, things are not looking good for many of the coral reefs which have literally taken hundreds (and, in some cases, thousands) of years to naturally develop. While there are several reasons for the decline/degradation of the reefs--not the least of which is destructive fishing (i.e., cyanide fishing, blast/explosives fishing, Muroami netting, etc.)--the bottom line is that this does not spell good things either for the oceans or for the thousands of creatures (including humans) that such marine degradation may affect.
3. Increases in ocean temperatures. You may be one of those people who still rejects the concept of global warming. What we all have to understand, though, is that our environment (like our physical body) is precariously perched on something called "balance" or "homeostasis."
Even a small increase in ocean temperature could greatly affect weather patterns on this planet, not to mention the health of reefs and sea creatures. Such increases are being recorded. Increases in the temperature of water in the northern part of the planet, for example, can increase melting of polar ice. This, in turn, may negatively affect the health of many sea species and may increase the chances of land below sea level being inundated (as is already being seen in parts of Europe, the Americas and elsewhere); even non-coastal land has experienced massive floods because of excessive rain.
Ironically, the oceans are helping to mitigate the warming effect on land areas because of the great increases in heat-trapping gases (i.e., methane, carbon dioxide, H2O vapor, nitrous oxide, etc.) in the atmosphere. Because this trapped heat has to go somewhere, though, it is naive and short-sighted for anyone to assume that the ocean, by itself, can control the potential negative consequences of global warming, assuming that this continues to worsen (as many experts predict).
4. Increases in the acidity of the oceans. Some people theorize that one of the things that lead to cancer in the human body is high acidity. There is no question that high acidity is not healthy for most living creatures--in fact, high acidity (if it goes too far beyond the 7.0 pH balance) can be deadly. The idea that such a circumstance may be tied to cellular malignancy is, therefore, not too far-fetched a concept.
The oceans have maintained a rather steady pH balance for most of their existence. Any changes in such will no doubt affect marine life. Obviously, some sea creatures may be more vulnerable than others but the fact remains that if the oceans continue to get more acidic, the consequences may be catastrophic.
5. Lowering of oxygen supplies in ocean waters. Some people forget that sea creatures depend on oxygen (in the form of dissolved oxygen) supplies in the ocean as much as we depend on it over land. In fact, it may surprise certain folks to know that oxygen depletion in certain bodies of water is sometimes responsible for the disappearance or demise of marine wildlife.
Well, such a development seems to be brewing in our ocean waters. The question that has to be asked is: Are these isolated incidents and how serious is the depletion? If the oxygen supplies in the ocean continue to decrease (as seems to be the case), great havoc will be the result in marine wild life survival. While no one can predict how extensive the damage may be, it is safe to say that all living marine life faces serious danger.
6. Increases in the numbers of biointegrity-damaging, invasive and usually non-indigenous species. When new predatory creatures are introduced into areas that have been dominated by certain species, troublesome events can arise. This is especially serious if the new creatures threaten the survival of organisms previously well-established. Some such invasive species include the lionfish, sea lamprey, round goby, snakehead, quagga mussel, zebra mussel, and Asian carp, to name just a few of said culprits.
As commercial traffic in the seas has greatly increased, so have the problems associated with such extensive human activity. Ballast water carried by ships has inadvertently taken many species from one part of the world only to introduce it to other more vulnerable areas. This has introduced non-native predators into areas where native, beneficial species presently face degradation or extinction because of these developments; needless to say, this may be one of the biggest threats on a massive scale to biodiversity.
7. Polar bears, walruses and other sea inhabitants not finding enough ice floes to escape to when needing to get out of the freezing waters. Ironically, even hitherto-strong predators (like polar bears) may be facing extinction (in the long run) because of man-prompted weather events that are changing our oceans. While some people waste time and resources claiming that things like global warming are mere political ploys with sinister agendas, animals that depend on ice patterns that haven't changed in the last 1000 years (except for what's happening lately) for survival are obviously facing life-threatening problems.
If global warming is not to blame, these people need to be asked, then why are walruses and polar bears struggling, in many cases not feeding properly--sometimes dying because of ice melting unexpectedly or uncharacteristically? All the catastrophic flooding that has been seen in Europe (especially the UK) and the Americas in the past 5 years cannot be dismissed as a mere coincidence.
If the polar caps were melting (as a result of the planet getting warmer), flooding and a reduction of floating ice floes would be seen . . . well, these signs are being seen right now and pretending that it's not happening isn't going to help us address the problem one iota.
8. Decrease in the quantity and quality of plankton. It's incredible how many sea creatures depend on plankton for survival. Though tiny in size, plankton is probably one of the most important food sources on earth, including in regards to human beings. It should also be noted that a whopping 3/4 of the oxygen supply on the planet comes from phytoplankton in the oceans!
Unfortunately, though, plankton, like many other animals in the oceans, are showing signs of unhealthiness. Not only are their numbers being greatly depleted, but so are the creatures that depend on them for their survival. While the solution to this problem may be more complicated than anyone realizes, it's something worth keeping a close eye on.
9. Ever-increasing and worsening quantities of dangerous chemicals and pollutants (including radioactive waste). Like water anywhere on this planet, ocean waters show signs of severe and, possibly, deadly toxicity. It used to be that things like e-coli were the main focus of attention--and, indeed, high counts of e-coli (and other potentially harmful microorganisms) are not a good thing (which is why they lead to beaches being closed when detected).
What is a more sinister find, though, are the many highly toxic chemicals that are showing up in ocean waters--chemicals that may not be as easily removed or dealt with as bacterial contamination. Such pollutants may also include radioactive waste, which is even more difficult (and, in some cases, impossible) to ameliorate.
10. Overfishing and excessively unnecessary slaughtering of sea creatures, including on-the-verge-of-extinction whales and fish (e.g., dolphins) caught on huge nets and other misused devices. Ironically, we have simply gotten too efficient when it comes to fishing. Modern fishing trawlers, to put it bluntly, do more damage than they do good. Often catching massive numbers of species not meant to be caught, these huge trapping vessels are virtually destroying our oceans, with no apparent improvement in sight.
The idea behind any industry should be sustainability but, if drastic changes are not made to our so-called "modern" fishing methods, the results will be catastrophic on a global scale.
Without question, the main reason this problem is not being adequately addressed is because too many people (especially those in political office in both developed and underdeveloped countries) fail to understand what is at stake. How many people, for example, realize why the oceans are essential for human survival? Does the average human being know that earth's oceans:
Of course, knowing how important the oceans are is only part of the equation. Without doubt, there are many people out there who know how important the oceans are but still don't see the need to take drastic action to protect them. Maybe they think that it's a problem for the young people who will inherit the planet or maybe they only care about the immediate benefits of marauding and pillaging the oceans.
It doesn't take a genius, though, to know that this perspective is seriously flawed. What is happening to the oceans is already affecting everyone on this planet, even if some people prefer to ignore the consequences.
Every year, for example, the FDA has to decline acceptance of contaminated seafood imported from places like China (which has allowed pollution to go mostly unchallenged, preferring to put commercial profit above food safety and the most basic ethical principles). The scary part, though, is that only a small percentage of seafood imported into the US is actually checked.
Diseases from infected or contaminated seafood, though, is only a small part of the problem. What about the species that may be facing extinction? What about the global weather changes that may be wrought? What if we are seriously damaging the main source of life-preserving oxygen on this planet?
By itself, maybe the destruction of the oceans might not mean the end of life on this planet but, when paired with the other major problems now raging (the devastation of the rain forests, the possible extinction of bees, the development of earth-changing erratic weather patterns, the apparently unstoppable extinction of much of the wildlife on this planet, the possible collapse of most agricultural food crops if the great GMO gamble turns out to be a massive disaster, etc.), the totality of these calamities may be such that humanity may not ultimately be able to survive the onslaught.
Of course, we can all just take a wait-and-see approach. Maybe planet earth will survive these attacks and maybe these symptoms and signs will not end as badly as some experts predict.
On the other hand, if we really believe in the concept of cause and effect, the writing on the wall is clear. We can't just sit idly by and do nothing. Support groups and organizations that are fighting to protect and reclaim what's left of our oceans. Become a loud but eloquent spokesperson for the only planet that we know of that can support life. Let others know about the problem.
Maybe by joining hands we can make a difference. At the very least, be able to say, "I did everything I could to change things; I researched ways that I and my family and friends can help ameliorate the process."
In time, if enough of us participate maybe we can bring about enough change to alter the otherwise inevitable global disaster. At the very least we need to go down fighting--assuming we were to lose this rather important fight. Then again, who says we have to lose the fight?
Copyright, 2016. Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved.
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