Bottlenose dolphins playing in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Sarah Chasis
June 8 is World Oceans Day, dedicated to celebrating our beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving oceans.
As our oceans make up more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface, their health drives the future of our planet. Oceans give us every other breath we take, provide a critical source of protein and a way of life for billions of people, contribute trillions of dollars to the world economy, and are home to 50 percent to 80 percent of this planet’s life.
They are also time-honored places to escape the stresses of everyday life. To play with our families under the warm sun, beside the crashing waves. To wonder at the horizon and imagine the varied sea creatures swimming deep below the waves. Our oceans are cause for celebration, even when it may be difficult to celebrate.
This year has been one of bombshell environmental reports. Decades of gloomy climate change predictions couldn’t prepare us for the latest IPCC report’s screeching siren. We’ve disrupted the planet’s climate through our fossil fuel addiction and only by slashing carbon emissions immediately do we have a shot of avoiding catastrophic effects — more superstorms, more drought, more extinction, more lives lost.
Last month’s U.N. biodiversity report didn’t offer up any silver linings, with the news that up to a million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, because of human activity. Climate change wasn’t even a leading cause of extinctions — habitat loss and overfishing edge out climate impacts … for now.
It’s a harsh message — decades of chronic overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction have stripped our seas of much of their diversity and abundance. Industrial and military ocean noise is on the rise, upsetting the ocean’s delicate acoustic habitat and challenging the ability of marine wildlife to mate, find food, migrate, and, ultimately, survive. Carbon dioxide emissions have made oceans more acidic, which makes it harder for shell-building organisms like oysters and scallops to grow their protective coverings and survive, and climate change’s warmer waters bring coral bleaching, mass marine wildlife migrations, an increase in dead zones and deoxygenation as we suffocate marine life. Unless we act, ocean ecosystems will continue to deteriorate or, in some cases, collapse entirely, and the consequences will reverberate through human society.
It’s more than a bit scary and uncomfortable to think about.
But we can imagine another, better future where we protect nature — and, in turn, nature protects us. If we act now we can slow, stop, and reverse biodiversity loss. And healthy oceans will help buffer against climate change. There are solutions — they’re tried and true. We must cut carbon emissions, protect significant areas of land and ocean and eliminate unsustainable fishing practices.
We know change is possible because we are making it happen. NRDC is securing protections for our oceans and the life it supports. Day after day, we’ll keep fighting to protect whales, sharks and other endangered sea life, to secure our ocean sanctuaries, to fight harmful offshore drilling and stop overfishing.
Watch this short film of just some of this year’s victories:
Just like our amazing blue world, these achievements are worth celebrating.
And help us fight for our oceans’ health. We can do this, together.
Sarah Chasis is senior director of the Oceans Division, Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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