Did you know that 70% of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean? Or that 97% of the biosphere is in the sea? The oceans also absorb much of our carbon dioxide and hold 97% of the earth’s water. Every single human being, plant and animal is literally dependent on the ocean for survival. Yet we treat our oceans like a bottomless liquid landfill.
Recent events have elevated ocean abuse to a top of mind environmental crisis. The infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch – composed of small but strong bits of plastic waste – is estimated to be much larger than the state of Texas. The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion left BP’s corporate reputation bruised, but continues to poison sensitive marine life that supports both local communities and global ecosystems.
Human activity has been punishing the oceans for decades. In the past 60 years, 90%-95% of many once common fish have been consumed. Half of all shallow coral reefs, which are a hotbed for biodiversity, are either gone or threatened. Climate change is leading to dangerously high sea levels and acidification that makes the water harmful to many marine species.
While the green wave keeps accelerating at an encouraging pace, we need to pay more attention to the color blue. Viewed holistically, the green and blue worlds are inextricably linked. Clean energy reduces carbon dioxide emissions, which in turn relaxes pressure on the ocean’s role as a carbon sink. More sustainable human diets can reverse the decline of endangered sea life. And a reduction of consumer packaging and increase in recycling will allow us to focus on cleaning up existing plastic waste rather than constantly compounding the problem.
Thankfully, our ocean heroes are emerging. Dr. Sylvia A. Earle is a tireless oceanographer and activist who has spoken for TED and testified before the U.S. Congress. Advocacy groups such as 5 Gyres and Oceana are in the trenches and taking action to protect our oceans. I’m privileged to be a part of Ocean Aid, which is a new Greenopolis-sponsored campaign using creative tactics to raise public awareness about oceans as our life support system. We launched while celebrating World Oceans Day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is another renowned champion for the ocean and all its diverse inhabitants.
All of these efforts are necessary to enact the structural and policy changes that will better serve our oceans. But let us not forget the role that each individual can play in solving big problems. Just as every vast beach is built by small grains of sand, every incremental step toward sustainability contributes to a larger movement.
I approach my daily life by considering its environmental impact. For example, fishing has decimated marine ecosystems that are a building block for the food chain. I’m a vegan because I believe that a plant-based diet conserves resources and reduces suffering for animals and fish. With climate change wreaking havoc on our oceans, I mostly take public transportation and purchase wind energy credits to lower my carbon footprint. Finally, whether it’s cooking at home or re-using my water bottle, I try to minimize waste and I recycle religiously! The ocean sustains all life on Earth; we owe it our utmost appreciation and respect.