World Oceans Day: Healthy Oceans = Healthy Planet
June 8 marks World Oceans Day, but what if we celebrated oceans every day? Covering more than 70 percent of Earth's surface, oceans, more than anything, define our small blue planet. We should celebrate their complex and vibrant ecosystems, life-sustaining services, calming effects and unimaginable diversity, much of which we have not yet even discovered.
Signify your commitment to protect our seas this #WorldOceansDay >> https://t.co/38XFyg7ik2 #thechangeiwilldo https://t.co/RcnvsdVDes— GreenpeacePH (@GreenpeacePH)1465383957.0
Summer is an especially rich time for ocean life. As days grow longer here in the northern hemisphere, abundance builds from the microscopic level as photosynthesis triggers phytoplankton to bloom, providing food for zooplankton such as krill. Krill then feed small fish like herring and sand lance, which in turn feed larger fish, dolphins and whales. This marine food web relies on a scale of unfathomable interconnectedness—yet it's easily disrupted.
Climate change, overfishing, pollution, industrial activity, shipping and events like El Niño are putting oceans under stress like never before. Sea levels are rising, fish migrating, oceans acidifying, coral reefs bleaching and phytoplankton disappearing and populations of iconic marine mammals like killer whales are plummeting.
The news for oceans hasn't been good lately and that worries Canadians. It's not just coastal communities that are defined and affected by oceans. Canada has the longest coastline in the world and people throughout Canada want the seas and all the marine life they support, to be healthy.
Fortunately, solutions to many ocean woes are within our grasp, although governments have been frustratingly slow to act over the past decade. Canada could protect marine areas, restore protective laws, conserve wild salmon and control open net-pen fish farms.
Our country's commitment to protect 10 percent of its marine environment by 2020 is a good start, but if we followed countries like Australia and the U.S, we'd aim higher. Canada could act to transform its reputation from laggard to leader on marine protection, plan for ocean management with an understanding of how ecosystems work and incorporate traditional Indigenous knowledge to give wildlife a chance to thrive.
Pacific salmon, crucial to West Coast ecosystems, are especially in need of protection, but their numbers continue to decline. Few natural events are as dramatic and moving as millions of salmon returning from the oceans to spawn in streams, rivers and lakes. Driven by the imperative to reach spawning beds before their genetically programmed deaths, salmon fight past predators, hooks, nets and pollution, retaining the power to leap river barriers shortly before their lives end. Bears, eagles and other wildlife feed on the salmon, leaving their nitrogen-rich wastes to fertilize the magnificent coastal rainforests.
For almost 40 years, Canadian laws protected fish such as salmon and the water bodies where they live and spawn. The Fisheries Act was one legal tool to protect lakes and rivers, which offer benefits such as clean drinking water to nearby communities. But the federal government removed habitat protections from the act in 2012. Fish that aren't part of a defined, often commercial, fishery will remain vulnerable until protection is reinstated.
We still have much to learn about wild salmon, but we can take some practical steps to support them. A lot of time and money, about $37 million, was spent on one of the most comprehensive reviews of Pacific salmon management ever undertaken. It's been four years since BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen completed his Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, yet few of his recommendations have been implemented. Fish biologists say that Canada's Wild Salmon Policy, adopted in 2005, also offers good management measures, but it isn't being followed either.
Salmon face other threats. Concerns over disease spread from salmon farms to wild salmon were heightened recently with the discovery of a new pathogen in farmed salmon. The virus connected to this disease plagues Norway's farmed salmon and is now common in penned Atlantic salmon and wild fish near BC fish farms.
Salmon are often indicators of the overall health of the ecosystems in which they live. When marine ecosystems are healthy, they provide food, jobs, recreation and culture. They are foundational life forces for whales, bears, eagles, forests and humans. We should celebrate their life-giving capacity by treating them with respect—not just on World Oceans Day, but every day!
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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