Our fate is tied to the oceans

Once again, I find myself writing about water pollution.

I went to an ‘exclusive’ holiday resort in India this June. The resort had all the luxuries one could ever want. What’s more, it was right near a seemingly enticing sea beach. Unsuspectingly, I ran towards the water only to find myself in contact with a brown, oil-like liquid splashing all over me. What a shock!

Only in recent times are people waking up to the deep connection between oceans and human life. It is clear that the 97% of earth’s water in oceans actually determines our very existence. “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you are connected to the sea,” says Sylvia Earle, legendary ocean researcher.

Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea. Over time most of the earth’s organic carbon has been absorbed and stored in the seas. The ocean drives climate and weather, and stabilises temperature. Water from the seas rise up to form clouds that return as rain, sleet and snow. Most of the life on earth is found within oceans. The variety of flora and fauna in oceans is simply mind-boggling.

Yet, these very oceans are under the worst ever threat as Dr Earle described in her lecture after winning the TED Prize this year. Over-fishing and depletion of oxygen levels in the ocean are leading to dead zones where the water is murky and bereft of life. Only about 10% of the big fish are left in the oceans. Plastics and abandoned fishing nets in the seas are also killing fish like never before.

Excess carbon dioxide is not only “driving global warming”, but it is also changing ocean chemistry and making the sea more acidic. “We are clogging the oceans, poisoning the planet’s circulatory system and we are taking out hundreds of millions of tons of wildlife – all carbon-based units,” said Dr Earle evocatively.

Thanks to the challenge thrown by Dr Earle, Google Earth recently included the oceans so that it is possible to drop below the surface ‘virtually’ and explore the nooks and crannies under the seas in all directions.

Only when everyone knows how much the ocean matters to us, can we take the much-required action. As Dr Earle explains, every astronaut going into space and every aquanaut going into deep ocean waters has to guard his or her life support systems – air, water, food and temperature. These are absolutely crucial for survival. But what about oceans which form the life-support system of humankind as a whole?

“Knowing is the key,” says Dr Earle. “With knowing comes caring, and with caring there is hope that we can – and will —find an enduring place for ourselves within the mostly blue planet that sustains us.”

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