For most people on most days, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind. But not today. On World Oceans Day, we celebrate the beauty and bounty of the most defining feature of our planet—the big, blue ocean.
Many of us feel a pull to it—that irresistible impulse to marvel at the unending waves, to dig our toes in the sand, to cast a line, to catch a wave, to dive below. When we are extraordinarily lucky, we get to experience the ocean on weekends and summer holidays. And some of us get to call the ocean and coast home year-round. But most of us live vicariously through images and videos, often on Instagram. For the most part, we live our lives and don’t have to think about what the ocean means to us and how much we need it.
Every single one of us needs the ocean, whether or not you sail its waters or sit on its shores, whether you enjoy seafood or love whales and otters. The ocean is fundamental to the functionality of our home planet.
Without the ocean, there would be no life. It is as simple as that.
Phytoplankton that lives on the surface of the ocean produces about half the oxygen on the earth. If you like to breathe, you need the ocean.
The ocean holds almost all of our planet’s water–about 97%, and is a key driver of our planet’s water cycle. If you depend on freshwater and everything that grows and lives because of it, you need the ocean.
The ocean is a primary food source for more than 2.6 billion people. If you like to eat fish, you need the ocean.
Over the past several decades, the ocean has absorbed almost all of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere–more than 90%. If you like a habitable planet, you need the ocean.
And right now, the ocean needs us.
For us to continue to enjoy the surf and the sand, the scallops and the seafood, the summers and the springs, we need to pay some attention to what we’re doing because our ocean has been bearing the brunt of our activities in four damaging ways:
First, we love all the ocean has to offer us a little too much. For example, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is depleting fisheries in many places around the world. It’s impacting coastal communities and local economies, especially in vulnerable developing communities.
Second, we willingly risk our ocean for dangerously short-term gains. For example, risky offshore oil and gas development could have catastrophic, irreversible impacts on fragile marine life.
We can feel the impacts of overfishing. We have witnessed the impacts of an oil spill. The harm to the ocean is direct. We decide whether to make changes to avoid that harm. We rebuild fish populations using smart, science-based management like what we have here in the United States. We constrain or prohibit oil and gas development–and when its expansion is proposed, we fight back to protect our coastal communities and livelihoods.
Third, we are increasingly cognizant of the fact that all rivers and waterways ultimately lead to the ocean. We see this every year during our International Coastal Cleanup, when volunteers pick up thousands of pounds of trash off our beaches, and hear this from scientists, who found that 8 million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year—bobbing on the surface, in the deepest trenches, carried to the Arctic and to the remotest islands.
And finally, the ocean is bearing the brunt of climate change. As we increase our carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, the ocean is becoming warmer, more acidic and is rising–threating coastal communities and livelihoods here and around the world.
Many of the choices we make as a society have gotten us to where we are today.
We now have the opportunity, on World Oceans Day, to remember how important the ocean is to us, and how our choices–every day–affect the ocean.
When we can understand the problem, we can find a solution. And part of that solution is recognizing that if we’re not talking and thinking about the ocean when we’re talking about food, or fresh water, or energy development, or reducing and managing our trash, or climate change, we’re not having the right conversation.
If you think of our ocean as a giant security blanket for the planet that has long protected us, insulated us, absorbed our injuries and nurtured us, one thing is increasingly clear. It is beginning to fray. The good news is that we have the will, skill and power to repair it.
Today, on World Oceans Day,
let’s remember that the ocean needs us as much as we need it.