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Peril Beneath the Blue: Cry of World Oceans Day 2023!

How inappropriate to call this Planet "Earth" when it is clearly "Ocean" ~Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur Clarke reminded us of the vastness of our planet covered by the ocean, which accounts for more than 70% of its surface. It is claimed that we know more about the moon than the oceans (BBC - January 2022). Nature across the spectrum presents an enthralling depiction of colour palettes and vibrancy. The most picturesque canvas in this regard is in the ocean scapes ranging from the flora and fauna in the coral reefs to the riot of hues as sunlight bursts through clouds and ocean waves! Happy (sic) World Ocean Day 2023!

The ocean is also a critical component of life on our planet, yet human activities are continually degrading its health. Shockingly, the most intellectual of organisms on earth, apparently us humans, pose the greatest threat to earth’s existence as modern lifestyles impinge on the balance and survival of the natural habitats and biodiversity. Issues such as pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, and global warming are escalating, while the solutions to these problems remain insufficient. Despite the awareness generated through various campaigns and initiatives, people often fail to realise the urgency and magnitude of the impact on our oceans.

Just three days earlier there were a billion odd posts showcasing World Environment Day celebrated on June 5th each year. A popular activity on this one day is beach and coastal clean ups. Most of those involved in these clean ups then spend the rest of the year generating waste to directly or covertly trash the oceans! Despite being an advocate for positivity of approach to life I choose to draw attention to two ocean areas on World Ocean Day 2023.

In the Pacific Ocean lies the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” between Hawaii and Califonia covering around 1.6 million square kilometers or nearly three times the size of France. The composition of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is primarily microplastics (tiny fragments less than 5mm), but it also contains larger items such as fishing nets and gear, plastic bottles, and other debris. As of the most recent estimates, it holds at least 80,000 tonnes of plastic, distributed across more than 1.8 trillion plastic pieces. (National Geographic, March 2023).

Closer home to India is the "North Arabian Sea Dead Zone" covering almost 30, 000 square kilometers of the Gulf of Oman. Dead zones are oxygen starved regions where few organisms survive. These are usually at depths of 200 to 800 metres where influx of chemical nutrients spur algae growth that consumes the oxygen. (National Geographic, Jan 2019).

Almost all faith systems and evolutionary science converge to declare that life originated from the oceans. Sustenance of life on Earth is dependant on the balance of ocean systems, circulation and the blue carbon ecosystem. Thus we may raise awareness of the environment on June 5th and of the oceans on June 8th and still remain in need of a little more. What exactly is the threat? Who are the three “terrorists of the seas”?

The foremost threat to the Ocean ecosystem is Marine Pollution. Multiple factors, both human-induced and natural, have far-reaching and detrimental effects on marine biodiversity. Oceanic Pollution takes the form of plastic pollution, oil spills, chemical pollution, sewage and garbage pollution, among others. Plastic pollution, in particular, is highly visible and has significant impacts on marine life. Discarded plastic items, whether from ships or land-based sources, are often mistaken for food by marine creatures, leading to injury or death. Devastating oil spills result mainly from maritime transport, offshore drilling operations, and occasional accidents. They coat organisms, impair their mobility, and harm their reproduction and survival. Chemicals from ship paints, antifouling agents, and other substances contaminate the ocean, affecting marine life. Improper waste disposal from ships and offshore platforms adds to marine garbage pollution, including food wastes, packaging materials, and discarded fishing gear. Discharge of untreated or inadequately treated sewage introduces harmful bacteria and viruses, posing health risks to marine life and humans, and contributing to nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms.

Climate Change is an apt axis of terror against the delicate hydrology and diversity of the oceans. Climate change significantly impacts the world's oceans, resulting in environmental and ecological changes. The key impacts include rising sea levels, ocean warming, shifts in marine species distribution, and the growth of harmful algal blooms. As global temperatures rise, glaciers and ice sheets melt, causing sea levels to increase. This leads to coastal erosion, flooding of low-lying areas, and heightened storm surges, endangering coastal habitats and communities. The ocean absorbs excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, resulting in ocean warming. This disrupts marine ecosystems by changing the distribution and abundance of marine species, impacting fisheries and altering predator-prey relationships. Warmer waters also promote the growth of harmful algal blooms, producing toxins that harm marine life, contaminate seafood, and deplete oxygen in affected areas.

As a consequence of climate change and a host of human unbridled greed emerges the third terror or Ocean Acidification. Oceans play a vital role in maintaining the global climate, covering over 70% of the Earth's surface. However, the absorption of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities has profound implications for ocean chemistry and marine life. Carbon dioxide dissolved in seawater undergoes chemical reactions, increasing the water's acidity and leading to ocean acidification. Since the industrial era, ocean acidity has risen by 26%. Such rapid changes in ocean chemistry can have detrimental impacts on marine organisms, particularly those with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, such as mollusks, crustaceans, and corals.

What for a Happy World Oceans Day 2023?

The health of the planet and the sustainability of most human activity is dependent on the oceans. World economy runs on the oceanic arteries across the surface of the seas. The ocean domain has varying maritime jurisdiction and “The Area” is of the greatest concern while being beyond national jurisdiction.It is crucial for us to address the major hurdles of marine threats mentioned above in order to preserve and conserve our oceans and transform it into a true "Planet Ocean" rather than a planet plagued by sewage, toxic waters, and garbage.

Blue carbon ecosystems - the world's mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows - play a pivotal role in mitigating the impact of climate change. These ecosystems are potent carbon sinks, sequestering CO2 at a rate up to four times greater than terrestrial forests. In the face of the escalating 'Peril Beneath the Blue,' promoting and restoring these precious blue carbon ecosystems must be central to our efforts. They not only help reduce CO2 in our atmosphere but also provide crucial habitats for marine biodiversity, improve water quality, and protect our shorelines from storm surges. By valuing and preserving these blue carbon powerhouses, we can take a critical step towards healing our oceans and ensuring the longevity of our 'Planet Ocean.' It's time to invest in blue carbon - our oceans' lifeline and our most underrated ally in the fight against climate change.

As the United Nations have declared the Theme for World Oceans Day 2023 to be "Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing" may we be mindful of enabling a positive change instead of being a sea wall to the turning tides!

Our oceans are in danger, and their preservation is vital for our future sustainability. We must cultivate a sense of selfishness when it comes to protecting the oceans because they are our lifeline. It is impossible to imagine life without water, and Earth without its magnificent oceans would be incomplete. On this World Oceans Day, let us renew our commitment to safeguarding these precious ecosystems. Happy Oceans Day! Make the Planet Smile by taking care of the Oceans!


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