CHENNAI: Did you know that an estimated 50-80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. As we celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that humans occupying the earth have managed to explore only 10% of the ocean. Water covers a staggering 71% of the earth’s surface area — our planet is more blue than green or brown.
With an average depth of 3,795 metre, the deep sea remains a mystery to us. Yet we find the effect of the ‘human hand’ at these surprising depths. Providing some hope, a new review states that “Despite being treated as humanity’s rubbish dump for decades, the oceans of the world are proving remarkably resilient”. This new review uses the promising outcomes as seen on the humpback whale and its associated marine ecosystem — since the ban on commercial whaling.
The oceans have been exploited by us for centuries, but the negative impact of our involvement have only become clear over the last 50 years or so. Building on the resilience of our oceans as exhibited by the humpback whale example, there is speculation that a full recovery is possible within three decades.
The researchers identified nine components that are key to rebuilding the oceans: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep ocean. A range of actions are required including protecting species, controlled fishing and restoring habitats.
Over the last few decades, climate change and warmer water have bleached corals, and the ocean’s acidity increased. This was documented in last year’s special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is causing a rise in sea levels and making the waters more acidic. The amount of warming that has already taken place will likely make rebuilding tropical reefs quite difficult.
Above all, there is the issue of plastic pollution. There are statistics that say by 2050 there is a chance that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Incidentally, 2050 is the same year by which we can possibly help the ocean fully recover through conservation and protection. The problem of plastics is widespread and even visible in the deep sea. According to a recent conversation with Roger Horrocks — an underwater cinematographer who has spent more than 250 hours filming under the oceans — “it used to be common to see dolphins playing with seaweed; now it is common to see them playing with plastic in the open oceans.” The first step to recovery is awareness.
The second is to change our behaviour in ways which we can in order to protect and conserve the ocean. In whatever way possible, reduce plastic in your daily life. There is a huge chance any plastic you have in your home can be in the ocean tomorrow unless carefully managed. Before we even resort to reusing and recycling we must reduce. Secondly, support ocean protection initiatives as far as possible — through organisations involved in this space or through impact investing in these causes. Be a responsible consumer of ocean-based products – know how your catch of the day was caught. Remember we live on a Blue Planet, and the blue is responsible for our rains, clouds, storms and oxygen. Protect the blue, protect our future.
Pavitra Sriprakash @pavisriprakash
The writer is an architect, urban designer, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects