“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” — Sylvia Earle
Humans have always questioned and explored the unknown. From the first moon landing to civilian space travel, we tend to take to the sky for inspiration. However, a complex, diverse, amazing mystery exists here on Earth and covers approximately 70% of our world: the ocean! Our global ocean connects us to each other and provides food, oxygen, and habitat for millions of known and unknown organisms. We’ve mapped less than 10% of the ocean, yet what we have discovered so far is incredible.
Did you know that the ocean has waterfalls and lakes inside of it? It’s true! Or that Point Nemo is the most remote location in the world? It is so far away from us, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts in space! The next time you envision sitting on a white sandy beach, thank parrot fish! These fish produce up to 85% of the sand on “reef islands.” Who knew?
Needless to say, the ocean is spectacular. Whether you live near salt water or not, all life on Earth depends upon it. The ocean stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere and generates more than half of all oxygen on Earth. Nearly 80% of trade in the US relies on the ocean. Billions of people consume marine organisms for sustenance, as well as ocean-derived ingredients in a myriad of food products.
We cannot live without the ocean, yet climate change is rapidly changing life both under and above the sea. The ocean absorbs heat from the atmosphere, which influences weather on local and global scales. As our atmosphere heats up from global warming, the ocean struggles to hold that extra warmth. Scientists have discovered that the amount of heat stored in the ocean has drastically increased since the 1950s. This is worrisome because warmer waters can influence the severity and frequency of tropical storms. There are also concerns that melting permafrost in the Arctic could release previously frozen bacteria and influence future diseases. Unfortunately, we are already seeing drastic changes to our ocean. In Summer 2021, heat waves in the Pacific region killed about one billion sea creatures off the coast of Vancouver.
Warming waters also directly impact marine life. Although the ocean stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide, too much can increase acidity in the water. Ocean acidification can harm sea creatures, including corals. Although they cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs provide essential nutrients and habitat for more than one-quarter of all sea life. They also directly support humans by protecting coastlines from severe storms and are major fixtures in the tourism and fishing industries. Unfortunately, scientists estimate that about 50% of all coral reefs have died in just the past three decades.
Scientists are also concerned about ocean current circulation, specifically the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). This major ocean current helps bring warmer water to the North Atlantic. It also influences Europe’s moderately mild winters, among other weather patterns. However, melting ice in Greenland is joining this current and rapidly changing it. Scientists estimate that the AMOC will continue to weaken as ocean temperatures rise. This could lead to a “tipping point” with severe consequences that include rising sea levels on the East Coast of the U.S., more storms in the UK, and extreme droughts and winters in Europe.
The immensity of the ocean means that it can be difficult to observe and measure the immediate effects of climate change. But one thing we can see in our seas and along our coasts: pollution — and there is much more that we cannot see located far from shore, under the surface, and broken down into microparticles and nanoparticles. Every year, our oceans are polluted with at least 14 million tons of plastic, including massive amounts of waste from the fishing industry, with tens of thousands of tons of nets, lines, traps and other fishing gear that are deadly for marine life. By 2040, the total amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to be around 600 million tons. Understanding this problem and the impacts of plastic and other pollution is 5Gyres’ mission and is essential for finding sustainable solutions. In addition to people, governments, industries, and companies need to do their part. Our partner, Natracare, is leading the way by only producing products that are entirely plastic-free and made from renewable, biodegradable, compostable materials. We need to stop pollution before it starts!
It will require everyone to protect the ocean, tackle the climate crisis, and help fuel the movement for a more just, equitable planet — like our partner, Only One, who provides a platform for stories, solutions, and community action to rewrite the future. Groups around the world are working to minimize threats to diverse ocean habitats, like relocating coral reefs for protection away from popular tourist destinations. Many nations are also starting to create more marine protected areas to conserve specific locations in the ocean and coasts by restricting human activities and monitoring local marine life.
The good news is that individuals can make pretty powerful waves (we couldn’t resist!) of change. One critical way that you can help protect the ocean is to interact with your government. Speak with representatives, vote (if you can), and organize to promote messages of conservation.
You can also adjust your diet to eat more sustainably — to save sea life, intake less toxins from the oceans into your body, and lessen the detrimental impacts of industrial fishing on the environment and people, among other things. Eliminate seafood entirely, consume less seafood, or focus on more sustainable options that are not overfished or under regulated.
Take a closer look at the products you purchase and use every day, as some might be more harmful to the ocean than you think! For example, many commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that are toxic to corals and marine life. Look for Reef Safe sunscreens and check out our green actions to learn more.
Keep learning about ocean conservation and sharing your knowledge! The ocean needs all of us to protect it and life on Earth.
At least 14 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. Plastic pollution harms and often kills marine life, particularly when organisms ingest toxins or get caught in or trapped by waste.
Briefly answer the following questions in 300 words or less:
- What are three interesting facts you learned from Only One’s article?
- What are three solutions to the massive global challenge of plastic in the ocean?
- What is one thing you can do to be part of the solution?
- What are two things corporations can do to be part of the solution?
Share one way you can be a part of the solution to plastic pollution on Instagram with a photo, graphic or piece of text.
Our ocean is home to an incredibly diverse range of organisms. From fish that eat their prey whole to alginates that are used to make frozen desserts, the ocean is full of amazing discoveries. Unfortunately, many life forms under the sea currently face extinction. One way to help endangered marine life is to learn about their environments, so we can better protect them.
Research an endangered ocean species. Learn about why this organism is important. What does it need to survive? What current threats harm it? Then, create a flyer with at least five things you learned and three things we can do to help protect this species.
THINK (PART ONE)
Now that you are familiar with some of the challenges facing our ocean today, it’s time to spread the word!
Research other stories about people being affected by ocean pollution and climate change. Synthesize all you have learned throughout this challenge, and prepare a short video that includes the problems being addressed and potential solutions.
The length (approximately 1-5 minutes) and format are up to you! You could record yourself sharing information, make a presentation to friends, do questions and answers, make stop motion, create a flipbook, do a voiceover with ocean imagery, anything that you think will be a powerful form of visual storytelling. Then, share it with your friends and family!
THINK (PART TWO)
We want you to take a deeper dive and learn from two incredible marine scientists. Please watch these two talks from Turning Green’s Project Green Course that took place. Fiorenza Micheli is the co-director of Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and a marine ecologist at the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Fabiola Rivera Irizarry is a marine scientist in Puerto Rico working with her team to bring coral reefs back to life. They spoke about solutions to the challenges facing our oceans globally. Similar to the carbon sequestered by soil, oceans are caretakers of our planet and humanity, as they capture at about one quarter of the carbon emitted by human activity. In turn, they need to be cared for by each of us.
Think about all you have learned during this challenge and the vital need for marine protection to achieve healthy oceans that can mitigate climate change. Create an eye-opening campaign with one specific call to action (i.e. protect our reefs, etc.) to care for this precious resource, our strongest ally in fighting climate change.
Be creative with your content and medium: a flyer, story map, social media series, video to educate about the importance of our oceans. Include a minimum of three benefits for the ocean and marine life and three actionable steps your audience can take.