Our Oceans Are in Trouble

Yes, we know. But it bears repeating. I am sharing this great article by Erica Hamilton that sums it up very well. I think it is a good follow-up to my previous blog post about the threat of deep-sea mining, and the Greenpeace/Jamaica Environment Trust protest outside the International Seabed Authority yesterday. A paragraph below refers to this very real issue.

Our oceans are in trouble. What are we going to do about it?

Because, as Ms. Hamilton notes below: If the sea dies, we die.

A beach in North Cornwall, UK
A beach in North Cornwall, UK. (My photo)

Our Oceans Are in Trouble

Many of us have either flown over the vastness of the ocean or sailed upon its surface.  I myself have fished so far from land that it is out of sight, you seem alone on the impenetrable blue depths.  It is a giddy sense of freedom, no roads, no fences, no stop signs, no speed limits but sobering to consider that you may be dependent on a GPS or knowledge of navigation, good weather and a steady engine to make it safely home.

Google tells us that the oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water. Less than 1 percent of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and 2-3 percent is contained in glaciers and ice caps. The oceans contain 99 percent of the living space on the planet. 50 to 80 percent of life on earth is estimated to live under the sea.  Startling statistics.

And our oceans are in trouble.  Mainly thanks to us.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, 1,414 species of fish, or 5 percent of the world’s known species, are at risk for extinction.  Others are threatened.  According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), more than 30% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed beyond their sustainable limits. A Stanford and Johns Hopkins study showed that 85% of the world’s fish populations are either nearing extinction, or on the way to extinction, or unsustainable.

A beach in Black River, Jamaica.
A beach near Black River, St. Elizabeth. (My photo)

Over one million marine animals (including mammals, sharks, and other fish, turtles, and birds) are killed annually due to plastic debris in the oceans.  According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy:

It is estimated that there are 100 million tons of plastic in oceans around the world. It is expected that another 60 billion pounds will be produced this year alone. In some areas, the buildup of plastics is estimated to span 5 million square miles. To put it into perspective, that is the equivalent of the area of the U.S. plus India.

Plastic is a most useful material, vital in many medical applications.  But our overuse of it is devastating our seas.  It breaks down, or sometimes actually enters the sea, as microplastics, which are eaten by a range of important food species at the bottom of the food chain, including mussels and langoustine. They have also been found to attract and carry, chemicals such as DDT.  If only 1% of single-use plastics escape recycling or proper disposal, that still means one billion items in our seas.

U.S. fisheries estimate that they kill 4,600 turtles every year as bycatch but that is down from 71,000 20 years ago, a 90% decrease, achieved by using circle hooks and nets that allow escape and rules excluding fishing in certain areas at certain times. The total capture rate of all animals is down as well, by 60%.  Shrimp trawlers are the worst offenders currently, and it is unclear as to whether measures being taken are sufficient to allow populations to recover.

And it is not just plastics that poison our oceans. The “solution to pollution is dilution” is NOT true.  Common man-made pollutants that reach the ocean are pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, plastics of course, and other solids.  Many of these collect in the oceans’ depths where they enter the food chain. Animal agriculture is the worst culprit. Scientists are even discovering that the medicines we take are ending up within the fish we eat. Pollutants may be released far from the coast but are washed into local streams and rivers and wind up, in the case of nitrogen-rich fertilizers, causing massive algae blooms that rob the water of oxygen leaving areas where little can exist.  There are at least 400 dead zones like this, around the world.

Wild bottlenose dolphins. (Photo: Dolphin Project)

In large seas, sound waves can carry undiminished for miles. Their increased presence from ships, sonar, oil rigs, even earthquakes is detrimental to sea animals, especially cetaceans.

Active or extinct hydrothermal seabed vents create massive sulfide deposits and these contain valuable metals such as silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc. Sea bed mining is done either with hydraulic pumps or bucket systems that take ore to the surface to be processed; both of these produce vast metal-laden plumes which are disastrous to sea life. In the North Sea, gender bender chemicals released when oil is extracted from the seabed has disrupted the ability of fish such as cod to reproduce.

During the last twenty years, global warming has increased sea levels by 3 mm per year and the rate is increasing. So much research has been done and so much written, that it is impossible to summarise here but increased sea temperatures impact coastlines, low lying human settlements, the weather with increased storms, ocean acidification, currents, tides, and the seafloor; all of these impact us.

If the sea dies, we die. Billions of people actually depend on fish for their day to day survival.  A 2006 study by Boris Worm, Phd., of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, assisted by colleagues in the UK, USA, Sweden, and Panama, says that if we keep fishing at existing rates there will be no fish in the ocean by 2048.

Sunset over Frenchman’s Cove, Portland. (My photo)

But the ocean is actually the life support system for the planet, providing 50% of the oxygen we breathe, and while some is provided by seagrasses and seaweed, the vast majority is supplied by plankton and phytoplankton that photosynthesize in the surface layer of the ocean.  With decreasing fish stocks, these plankton, including krill, are now used by Norwegian and Japanese fishing entities to create protein-rich animal feed. They are also being reduced by acidification, habitat destruction, and excessive carbon dioxide pollution. And by the huge decrease in cetacean populations because in the open ocean, waste from these mammals and other animals provide necessary nutrients.

It is we who have to change things. Each and every single one of us.  And because there is so much that one individual can do, and that organizations and nations can do, a separate article is needed.

Erica Hamilton


July 24, 2019



3 thoughts on “Our Oceans Are in Trouble

  1. I wonder if everyone actually realizes how important the oceans are to us, Emma. Thanks for a great article.


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