6. Oceans and Human Connections
No matter where we live, the ocean influences all of us. In turn our actions, with over 7 billion of us, add up to influence the ocean. The ocean provides us with basics, like oxygen and fresh water, and the ocean feeds us. Even if we do not eat seafood, fishmeal is used to feed poultry and pork as well as to organically fertilize crops for millennia. Fish and other seafood are vital for good nutrition, jobs, and economies around the world. The ocean also is a source of minerals, energy resources, and medicines. It provides us with the opportunity for ocean sports and activities. It can help to inspire people, like a muse, or to help people relax, like a spa. Marine tourism has brought people from all around the world into a close interaction with the ocean. The trade and shipping industry are businesses that were completely transformed by marine transportation. The ocean is used in almost all aspects of our daily lives.
Much of our global population lives in or closer to coastal areas. These concentrations of people make the need to restore and protect adjacent ecosystems even more important. We are starting to understand more about the protection that natural systems provide us, from marine hazards like rising sea levels, cyclones, hurricanes, storm surges and tsunamis. The reconstruction of wetland habitats, dam removal, and inclusion of local knowledge in decision-making is being tested and, with early results, looks promising. People are collaborating to include natural systems' needs in constructed coastline design, giving us a chance to improve how we harden, dredge, and construct harbour and ports.
It is easy to forget in our day to day lives that we are not separate from nature but a part of it. With a continuously growing human population, the need for a sustainable future is increasingly prominent.
Lets investigate some of the key negative impacts that humans are having on the ocean. We already discussed ocean acidification caused by the rampant burning of fossil fuels. There are some forms of pollution that humans cause but cannot see.
With the warming of the water, the sea ice is melting at a consistent rate over the past few years. While this is damaging for the animals such as walrus and polar bears that rely on sea ice for their survival, it is helpful to humans. Less sea ice means that travel is easier for boats through the Arctic, this was not previously possible. This poses a new challenge for Arctic marine life: Noise Pollution
Noise pollution is when we release excess or loud noises into the water. Noise pollution disrupts communication between animals, who rely on communication to find each other in the dark waters. This is especially true for Beluga Whales, who rely on acoustic sounds to communicate between mother and calves.
Dr. Valeria Vergara, a research scientist for the Ocean Wise Vancouver Aquarium, has been studying just that. During one of her research expeditions to the arctic, she captured some incredible sounds! This is an example of the complex sounds that a Beluga Whale uses to communicate. Imagine trying to communicate like this while you were at a busy playground or on a construction site. With all the extra noise put into the environment, it is extremely difficult for belugas to communicate with each other.
Noise pollution can also cause physical hearing damage. Believe it or not, fish do have ears. And sound is much louder through the water than it is on land. Noise pollution may be invisible but it can still be very dangerous.
Photo by Thomas Hallermann, Marine Photo Bank
What sort of solutions can you think of to help reduce noise pollution and help Arctic animals? Perhaps you could design a new silent boat engine. Or you could discover what areas belugas inhabit most so laws can be created to protect those areas from boat traffic. The solutions are possible but more research and decisive action is needed to help make a difference.
It starts with you, in your daily life.
One of the ways you can make a difference in your daily life is to choose sustainable food options. Sustainable means taking what you need but leaving enough of the resource for future generations to meet their needs. A common problem seen today is over fishing or unsustainable fishing practices. Many ocean organisms are falling victim to by-catch, where they are accidentally caught by unsustainable fishing methods like bottom trawling. Sustainable fishing means using methods that take only the fish you are intending to catch as well as only taking what we need and leaving organisms in the ocean to maintain the populations in the wild so we can continue to put fish on our plates. In Vancouver, BC you can download the Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood App. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol to ensure you are eating substantially caught seafood.
When we take too much from the ocean, it is not always able to recover and the entire ecosystem can suffer from the removal of one species. A strong example of this is the over hunting of sea otters during the fur trade. Sea otters are a key stone species and when they were hunted to extinction in British Columbia, Canada, it completely destroyed the kelp forests that sustained the ocean ecosystems along the coast. Here is why:
By removing sea otters from the ecosystem, we removed the sea urchin's natural predators. This allowed for sea urchins to over populate and over-eat the kelp. Taking out a key piece of the ecosystem puzzle throws the whole system out of balance.
As a land species, we have been a bit slow grasping how important the ocean is to our lives and how much our activities influence the ocean. Even though it may feel removed and unconnected to our daily lives, the ocean affects us all. Water runs downhill. Whatever we put into our drain makes it's way towards to ocean, as what we put into the air. The more we learn about how the ocean is connected, the more we are grappling with what we need to know and do to secure a sustainable future. A future that relies on the ocean. We all have a responsibility to take care of the ocean, it's life and systems, which make all life on Earth possible.
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