World Oceans Day, which takes place on 8 June each year, reminds us of our oceans’ critical role in sustaining life on Earth.
And during our research for this article, we’ve realized that marine conservation is in crisis.
As one of the most neglected of the UN Sustainability Development Goals, it cannot be overemphasized how urgently we need to take action to conserve this diverse environment that makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface.
In what is a hugely overlooked area of conservation, this World Oceans Day 2023, it’s time we gave equal billing to life below water as we do to life above it.
90% Decline in Fish Populations
Our oceans play host to an incredible array of biodiversity, with ecosystems ranging from tropical coral reefs, vast kelp forests to deep trenches. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 80% of the world’s biodiversity comes from the sea. It is home to around 250,000 named species, with the Census of Marine Life suggesting around another two-thirds remain unidentified.
However, this biodiversity is at risk. Overfishing has already led to a decline of nearly 90% in large predatory fish populations such as sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish since 1950.
And rising temperatures, mixed with the increasing acidification of seawater, have seen unparalleled habitat destruction, such as coral reef bleaching – which disrupts food chains and threatens the survival of numerous marine species.
Research from the University of British Columbia suggests that a staggering 50% of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that if we fail to curb emissions, we could lose up to 90% of coral reefs by 2100.
That’s near-total destruction of an entire habitat!
Record Fines for Water Companies
Not only are we depleting the marine life that should exist in our seas at an ever-increasing rate, but we’re also replacing it with waste that has absolutely no right to belong there.
Last month, Surfers Against Sewage made headlines for staging a demonstration across 12 locations around the UK to protest against water companies recklessly dumping sewage directly into the sea.
It came after South West Water had been fined a record £2.1million for illegally polluting waterways.
On one occasion, raw sewage was pumped into the sea for more than 35 hours, with a sample taken from a stream at the nearest beach showing E. coli levels to be 2,000 times higher than a poor rating.
The Environment Agency also found effluent from a sewage treatment works was pumped into a Site of Special Scientific Interest (designated due to its variety of bird life and invertebrates) on two occasions in Plymouth.
Sadly, reckless dumping from companies doesn’t stop there, and international initiatives like World Oceans Day can only do so much to raise awareness. There must be greater consequences for those who harm our oceans and waterways.
More Plastic than Fish
Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, which only increases yearly. By 2050, it is projected that the ocean will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish unless we take immediate action on waste management.
Not only does this cause immense harm to fish and other marine animals, but ultimately to ourselves – not least through ingesting microplastics, which are now so ubiquitous they have been found in unborn babies.
Additionally, healthy oceans actively provide coastal protection to those of us on land.
Healthy coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass beds, act as natural buffers against climate-related events like storms and rising sea levels.
These ecosystems serve as effective coastal protection, reducing the vulnerability of human settlements and infrastructure to the impacts of climate change.
Without healthy coastal habitats, we are more at risk from the worst the ocean has to offer.
The £1.2 Trillion Ocean Economy
And if all these environmental factors weren’t enough to regard the health of the blue planet as a top priority, you may wish to consider the economic argument.
The ocean economy contributes an estimated £1.2 trillion annually to global GDP, supporting tourism, fisheries, and transportation industries.
Simply put, it provides livelihoods for millions of people worldwide and ensures the food security of coastal communities that rely on fishing as their primary source of sustenance.
And we haven’t even touched on the devastation that will occur to these low-lying communities with the threat of rising sea levels.
One of the main tenets of the World Oceans Day concept is to bring nations together in a collective effort to protect our shared oceans. And while conservation of all kinds is vital, it has to be pointed out that marine conservation is often overlooked in high-profile awareness campaigns.
While we’re all aware that the deforestation of the planet’s rainforests presents an urgent and pressing problem, consider that the ocean sequesters almost double the amount of carbon each year in comparison.
Research suggests that tropical rainforests – branded the lungs of the planet – sequester around 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon annually. Meanwhile, studies estimate that oceans sequester around 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon annually.
That’s approximately 25% of the total CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere globally each year – making the oceans a crucial carbon sink.
Additionally, the oceans absorb and store vast amounts of heat from the atmosphere. The sea acts as a massive heat sink, regulating global temperatures and mitigating the worst effects of climate change.
In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the top 700 meters of the ocean have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat generated by human activities since the 1970s.
Nevertheless, despite its significance, marine conservation has received less than 1% of all charitable funding since 2009. It remains the least funded of all the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the charity Funding The Ocean.
Historically, funding for rainforest conservation has often received more attention and resources compared to marine conservation. Rainforests are universally acknowledged as biodiversity hotspots and crucial for carbon sequestration, which has led to increased global support for their preservation.
Marine conservation, on the other hand, has faced significant challenges in garnering comparable funding levels. While marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and coastal habitats, are equally important in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem services, they have received comparatively little attention and far less funding.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
While it’s true that initiatives like World Oceans Day strive to raise awareness and bring the pressing issues relating to ocean conservation to the forefront of people’s minds, they can only do so much. Unless you live or work near the ocean, the chances are you’ll rarely see the damage being done. There’s a disparity between marine and oceanic conservation and other forms of conservation, like protecting the Amazon.
This disparity can perhaps be attributed to factors such as the vastness and complexity of marine environments, a lack of public awareness, and the perception that marine conservation is more challenging and expensive to implement.
James Merchant, from the Marine Conservation Society, said:
“For some, the ocean may seem out of sight, out of mind. But it’s worth remembering that the ocean has ensured a habitable climate for life on Earth as we know it.
“We must invest in the ocean to protect the planet, and provide long-term benefits to society, creating new livelihoods and supporting the global economy.”
The challenges facing our oceans may seem daunting, but there is hope. International collaboration and individual actions can make a significant difference, but luckily there are brands taking sea conservation seriously, like My Little Green Wardrobe, which only stock swimwear and outerwear made from recycled materials, such as recycled plastic bottles.
This is particularly important because the OECD estimates that globally only 9% of plastic waste is recycled.
It’s definitely worth checking out similar brands and organizations that are either utilizing recycled plastic materials or at least trying to minimize their own use of plastics.
What Can You Do to Help on World Oceans Day?
Aside from searching out brands that are cutting down on single-use plastics and pioneering more ocean-friendly solutions, here are some of the ways you can take action on World Oceans Day:
1. Join the Movement
Head to the World Oceans Day website to find educational resources and nearby events. The movement has been going on since as far back as 1992 – so it’s likely that local businesses and organizations will get involved in the initiative somehow. It’s definitely worth doing your research and discovering how you can get involved on a local level.
2. Skip the Seafood
Give the ocean a break today by avoiding seafood for the day, the rest of the week, or even the month!
While there are many well-managed and sustainable fisheries, there are also many poorly managed fisheries that put enormous pressure on marine ecosystems. According to the UN, 89.5% of fish stocks worldwide are either fully fished (58.1%) or overfished (31.4%).
Generally speaking, the more we can reduce our meat and fish consumption, the more impact we can individually have on our planet.
3. Clean a Beach
Get involved with a beach clean such as an annual ‘coastal cleanup’ if your state has a coastline; plenty of states run such initiatives, including New York, California, and Florida, to name just a few.
Or, you could hit up the Million Mile Clean if you live in the UK, run by Surfers Against Sewage. The charity runs events year-round and aims to clear one million miles around the UK by 2030.
4. Educate Yourself
Read online resources or watch a film about the issues impacting the ocean. Options include the BBC’s two ground-breaking Blue Planet series, or the 2016 film A Plastic Ocean, named by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the most important films of our time.”
5. Citizen Science
Gather important data for citizen science projects run by the likes of the NOAA, or Marine Conservation Society UK. Citizen scientists play a valuable part in the fight for a cleaner, better-protected, healthier ocean.
This is a great way to involve the kids, and with your help, charities and worthy organizations can collect enough information to provide evidence-based results which can be used to understand the state of our seas and campaign for change.
Make a Pledge to Get Involved This World Oceans Day
This World Oceans Day, let’s recognize the necessity of ocean conservation and commit to taking meaningful action – even if it simply increases our awareness.
Our oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, and their health is inextricably linked to our own well-being.
By implementing sustainable practices, supporting conservation efforts, and advocating for policy changes, we can protect our precious blue planet and the entire planet for generations to come.