To people living in landlocked areas, the ocean may seem like a far away and insignificant part of the world. The vastness of the deep blue seas and unexplored wilderness seems eternal and mysterious, existing day in and day out like it always has been and seemingly always will be. However, the future of the ocean is much more of a pressing and important matter, with the future of its existing directly impacting the future of mankind.
The ocean is a valuable resource, with many people and industries depending on it. According to the World Wildlife Fund, over 3 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of protein. Due to this great need, the ocean is often left with irreparable damage or deep scars. Certain species are overfished and overused, leading to mass extinctions and endangerments, most notably whaling through the 18th and 19th centuries, which had deep repercussions in whale populations worldwide in due to its thoroughness.
Most recently, fisheries and industry for highly sought-after fish such as Bluefin Tuna, Swordfish, and Chilean Sea Bass have collapsed due to overfishing, leading to desperate attempts from fishing companies to keep up their business. The term “fishing-down” is used to describe the companies’ attempts to go further out to sea in order to increase their catch, which is further devastating the populations of fish. Overfishing has lead to some populations dropping by nearly 90%, and devastating innocent bystanders in what is called “by-catch.” By-catch refers to the marine life caught in fishing trawls and nets other than the target species. The form of fishing that involves by-catch devastates reefs, which negatively impacts many different species and natural ecosystems.
If this devastating form of overfishing continues, CNN reports that multiple negative side effects will occur that can impact humankind. Oceans and their inhabitants provide ecosystem services for the whole world, include maintaining oxygen production, producing consumable food, and contributing to weather patterns. Overfishing has lead to the destruction of many individual environments, whose disappearance can affect variables such as ocean acidity, which therefore impacts the populations of phytoplankton, who are then a major recycler of carbon dioxide producer of oxygen. Each decision made by has an impact down the road that most people are unaware of. University of Denver freshman Caroline Field stated, “the endangerment of animals and the destruction of species… it’s an issue that I don’t think a lot of people pay attention to.”
Trash dumping is another issue within the ocean community, with the waste left by humans having a vastly negative impact on the marine life around it. For example, in the month of January alone, over 30 whales have beached on European shores. Each of the whales was found to have mounds of trash and plastic in their stomachs – a sign that waste doesn’t just disappear.
Nowadays, there is a deeper awareness of the dangers humans impose on the ecosystems of the oceans, with many different organizations such as Ocean Conservancy, WWF, and the Marine Conservation Institute taking a direct approach on saving the seas. Marine biologists and other scientists stand behind them, but these organizations have limited reach without the support of the masses, especially younger people. These organizations often have campaigns citizens and college students can join, such as Oceana. University of Denver sophomore Joanna Fleming said, “we are constantly putting our ecosystem, that ecosystem in danger and in risk,” a sentiment echoed among millions of activists.
At this point, there are only a few ways to protect the ocean, one being the making of marine parks and protected areas. These areas limit fishing, transportation and other destructive practices within the area. The International Programme on the State of the Ocean is another protective measure made by concerned scientists, activists and lawmakers that encourages the creation protective legislation by countries.
Each of these protections are works in progress, and need the constant support and backing of everyday citizens and those who recognize the importance of the seas. By educating people on the dangers of overfishing, trash dumping and general pollution of the ocean, they hope to preserve the world’s largest, most expansive and highly important ecosystem.