Oceans are here, there and everywhere in the month of June.
June 8th is World Ocean Day, June 8 to June 12 is the UN World Ocean Week, and in the US, the entire month of June has been designated by President Biden as National Ocean Month. The attention is well-deserved: oceans constitute about 70% of the planet’s surface, and healthy oceans are central to sustaining life on the earth, including ours.
Now more than ever, the balance of life in the ocean is threatened by global warming, overfishing, habitat destruction, plastic pollution and more. Always, our work is to raise awareness of the value and vulnerability of the ocean, and to spur real action by governments and citizens to solve the ocean’s problems. This June, we rededicate ourselves to this critical effort. As part of that, we are looking back to see what we’ve accomplished in the past year, looking ahead to next year, and offering tangible actions you can take to really make a difference for the ocean.
The Year Past
Despite a prolonged global pandemic—and some respite for the oceans with fewer cruise ships and freighters, and less tourism on fragile coral reefs—the state of our oceans continued to decline. Emissions may have dipped a bit but climate change is now ‘baked into’ our oceans, meaning that warming and acidification will continue from pollution and heat already in the atmosphere and water. Coral bleaching, harmful algal blooms, and low oxygen events around the world continue, and stony coral tissue disease continues to decimate coral reefs off Florida and elsewhere.
On the plus side, the new US administration takes global warming seriously, and for the first time in four years the government is working to reduce emissions rather than allowing them to go unchecked. We’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accords. The President has made it US policy to protect 30% of US lands, waters and oceans by 2030 (“30 by 30”). One Third for Nature, as we call it, would revolutionize conservation in the US if the levels of protection are meaningful and spread across representative areas.
Though important international conferences that will set conservation objectives for the coming decade were pushed off to late 2021, behind-the-scenes negotiations and work continued, giving organizations like ours more time to urge decision makers to make their objectives more ambitious and measures of success more transparent. Will international organizations like the UN and the Convention on Biological Diversity officially adopt 30 by 30 as the decadal goal? We’re hopeful and working hard to make that happen.
Negotiations over the treaty to conserve marine life on the high seas—areas beyond national jurisdiction—were supposed to conclude in 2020; they didn’t. But again, behind-the-scenes work continued as Marine Conservation Institute and our partners at the High Seas Alliance and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition worked on a framework for creating marine protected areas and other conservation measures in places where no national government or single international body governs. The high seas make up almost one half the globe and have very few protections for the most vulnerable marine life and habitats. No overarching framework protects deep sea corals thousands of years old from bottom trawling, or declining populations of long-lived sharks or deep sea fish from harvesting.
Years to Come
As the popularity of World Ocean Day increases, we are encouraged to see higher attention from world leaders on ocean problems and solutions. The year ahead will likely be critical for the world to tackle climate change, ocean warming, and preservation of biodiversity. It feels like these issues have come to a head and are merging with efforts in different countries to reform their economies, their energy sectors, and rebuild the world in a more sustainable way post-pandemic.
There is palpable excitement about new policies encouraging the shift to renewable energy, more sustainable uses of resources, and jobs that help the earth and ocean rather than hurt them. Banks and businesses are waking up to the global problem and beginning to change investment patterns and products. There is also increased attention on what consumers and individuals can do to help this process.
Can One Person Make a Real Difference?
The answer to this question is YES; one person can make a difference in how they treat the ocean and marine life. And that difference multiplied by hundreds and thousands and millions can make a bigger difference.
The easiest way to amplify your efforts is by letting your elected representatives know that you care about the ocean and want to see them pass legislation and fund programs that improve the health of the ocean and its life. You can support local efforts, national organizations like Marine Conservation Institute, and international organizations that work on healthy oceans year round. And if you’re looking for the 5 to 10 things you can do to make a difference starting this World Ocean Day, here are some to consider:
- Eat less wild caught marine life, aka seafood. Instead eat shellfish like clams, mussels and oysters that are grown for consumption. As filter feeders, they clean the ocean
- If you want to eat marine life, make sure it is sustainably fished with a minimum of bycatch and habitat damage from bottom trawling. Use the Seafood Watch website to see what those species and methods of fishing are.
- Consider eating less meat; try a meat-free Monday. Meat production takes tons of fresh water, typically requires heavy use of fertilizer for feeds, generates lots of carbon pollution and can lead to deforestation of places like the Amazon.
- Use less throw away plastic items: plastic silverware, straws, bags, take-out food containers, plastic pints of water, etc. Making virgin plastic requires lots of oil and gas production, leads to carbon emissions, and if not well managed, the waste ends up in streams, rivers and the ocean.
- Use less fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide on your lawn and property. Dead zones, places where all the dissolved oxygen is used up by an over-abundance of algae stimulated by the fertilizer that has run off into the ocean, are spreading around the world and increasing in size.
- When you visit the beach, clean up after yourself (and unfortunately, others). Be respectful of wild marine life. Don’t feed them, get too close, or harass them.
- If visiting delicate coral reefs, use reef safe sunscreen and stay away from the corals. Touching corals or other marine life with your hands or fins hurts them.
- Reduce use of fossil fuels that are changing the climate of the earth and oceans. Ocean warming and acidification are the direct result of too much carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are used or produced.
- Visit Blue Parks and other highly protected, well managed marine protected areas to support the nearby communities that created them. This financial support will enable them to pay for management, enforcement and monitoring of the protected areas.
- Support organizations (like ours) that are working to restore healthy oceans and marine life.
- Enjoy your trip to the ocean wherever that may be. ‘Fall in love’ with some part of the ocean or marine life. You’ll want to protect the ocean that much more.