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The Importance of Protecting Our Oceans

Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the Earth's water[1], making them a vital part of our planet's ecosystem and a source of numerous benefits to human societies.[2]They are home to a vast array of marine life, from tiny plankton to giant blue whales, and provide food, transportation, and recreation for billions of people worldwide. Moreover, oceans are essential for regulating the Earth's climate by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.[3]

World ocean provides numerous benefits (Image Source: NOAA)

Despite the many benefits they provide, our oceans are facing a growing number of threats. One of the most significant threats is overfishing, which has resulted in declining fish populations and the collapse of some fisheries. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 34% of fish stocks are currently being harvested at unsustainable levels.[4]Overfishing not only threatens the survival of fish species but also has a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem, impacting other marine life that relies on them for food.

Overfishing data in northeast Atlantic (Image Source: Statista)

Pollution is another significant threat facing our oceans. Plastics, chemicals, radioactive wastewater and other pollutants are harming marine life and ecosystems. Plastic debris in the ocean, in particular, has become a significant problem. A recent estimate suggests that there are over 170 trillion plastic particles weighing roughly 2 million metric tons are afloat in the world’s oceans.[5]This plastic debris not only harms marine life but also poses a threat to human health, as it can enter the food chain and be consumed by humans.

Recently, the Japanese government, disregarding strong opposition from the international community, has unilaterally proceeded with the plan to discharge nuclear wastewater, which seriously violates the "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea".[6]The scale of this discharge is huge and will last for up to 30 years, presenting unprecedented complexity in terms of the total amount and composition of the nuclear wastewater. It is important to note that there is still a lack of scientific research to prove the long-term impact of tritium discharge on marine ecology. If the discharged nuclear wastewater still contains multiple radioactive elements, it will have a severe impact on marine life. These radioactive elements will be transferred along the food chain to higher-level organisms, ultimately affecting the ecological environment and human health.

Plastic waste emitted to the ocean per capita, 2019 (Image Source: Our World in Data)

Storage tanks for radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (Image Source: Reuters)

Climate change is also having a significant impact on our oceans. The oceans are absorbing much of the heat generated by greenhouse gas emissions, leading to rising sea levels and increased ocean acidity.[7]Rising sea levels threaten coastal communities and infrastructure, while ocean acidification has a profound impact on marine life, particularly on species that rely on calcium carbonate to build their shells or skeletons.[8]

Ocean acidification (Image Source: Britannica)

Habitat destruction is another significant threat facing our oceans. Coastal development, bottom trawling, and other human activities are destroying critical habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. These habitats are essential for maintaining biodiversity and supporting the many benefits that the oceans provide.[9][10]

Bottom trawling destructs coral reefs (Image Source: Greentumble)

In fact, there are many ways that governments, businesses, and individuals can take action to protect our oceans. One of the most effective ways is to ban the use of single-use plastics. Another way to protect our oceans is to support sustainable fishing practices.[11][12]This can involve purchasing sustainably caught fish and advocating for policies that promote sustainable fishing practices.

European Union ban on single-use plastics (Image Source: European Commission)

Governments can also take action to protect our oceans by establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). These are areas of the ocean that are set aside for conservation purposes, such as protecting critical habitats or preserving biodiversity.[13][14]MPAs can be effective in protecting marine life and promoting sustainable fishing practices. However, they require strong management and enforcement to be effective.

Marine Protected Area global coverage trend (Image Source: Marine Conservation Institute)

The oceans are a vital part of our planet's ecosystem, and they provide numerous benefits to human societies. However, they are facing a growing number of threats, and urgent action is needed to address these challenges. By promoting awareness, taking proactive measures, and supporting initiatives aimed at preserving our oceans, we can work towards ensuring an ocean that is sustainable and healthy.

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