As June 8 - World Ocean Day - approaches, it’s easy to feel that as a Midwesterner living very far from the ocean, our actions don’t have impacts on that ecosystem, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The vastness of the ocean is hard to grasp. Oceans cover 71% of Earth’s surface, hold 97% of Earth’s water supply, and are 7 miles deep at the deepest point in the Mariana Trench. Yet, we’ve explored less than 5% of the oceans and know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the floor of the ocean. We do know oceans hold an incredible volume of water and their potential to store heat and energy lead to massive impacts on our planet that can be difficult to understand on a wide-reaching, global level. Let’s skim the surface on just a few.
Oceans have a higher heat capacity than air and can absorb large amounts of heat energy with only a small increase in temperature. Studies have shown a steady increase in the heat content of the ocean’s top 2,000 meters, where temperatures can be reliably measured. Ocean currents redistribute Earth's heat from the tropics to the poles and help regulate Earth's climate.
As sea surface temperatures rise, we see direct impacts. Energy for storms comes from heat energy in ocean surface waters, so we see a trend towards more powerful storms. Changes in sea surface temperature causes a change in water density, which leads to changes in ocean currents and impacts weather all over the world. In addition, those changes in currents can affect nutrient distribution in the oceans, disrupting food chains in our world’s largest habitat. Lastly, water expands in volume as it gets warmer, leading to rises in sea level.
Another factor in the rising sea level is due to melting sea ice. The Arctic has lost 95% of its older, thick, multi-year ice (ice that lasts through summer). The bright, white color of snow and ice works to reflect the sun’s energy back into outer space. Without it, darker ocean water absorbs more of the sun's energy, further perpetuating loss of sea ice, rising ocean heat, and rising sea surface temperatures.
Ocean temperatures also impact coral reefs, which cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, but are critical to at least 1/4 of all marine species. (Scientists estimate marine species could total between 1.4 to 1.6 million - so that’s no small number!) Rising temperatures and ocean acidity leads to coral bleaching, resulting in the death of the corals. In a recent study, scientists estimate that we’ve lost roughly 50% of Earth’s coral reefs since 1950 and biodiversity in reef ecosystems has dropped 63%. Besides impacting ocean food chains, this loss of biodiversity also negatively impacts indigenous coastal communities whose culture and diet is closely linked to coral reefs.
In addition to impacts from climate change, human’s mass consumption of commercial goods also has an alarming impact on our ocean ecosystem. Plastic production is increasing exponentially, currently doubling every 11 years. From 2015 to 2026, we will produce as much plastic as we have since plastic production began. Plastic recycling rates are low, with many types of plastic being non-recyclable, especially at a local level.
Further, due to its lightweight nature and its inability to completely degrade, but rather break into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, much of the plastic produced ends up in the ocean - at least 14 million tons a year. In fact, 80% of all marine debris is made of plastic, greatly impacting ocean species which ingest or become entangled in it. Since 1960, there has been a 67% decline in seabirds and 90% of seabirds species have been found to ingest plastic, often leading to fatality. There is a growing concern about harm caused from ingesting microplastics, especially in regards to human consumption as these tiny particles make their way up the food chain. (There’s oodles more harmful info about ocean plastics and microplastics… but maybe that’s a different blog - which we may already have)
So. As a Midwesterner, what can you do? Here are the three main ways to help:
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Scientific research indicates in order to help save the oceans, we need to reduce our carbon emissions, which exacerbates climate change. Some ways to do this include: reducing driving or taking public transportation, reduce home energy consumption or increase energy efficiency, using forms of renewable energy, shopping locally, buying food grown using sustainable farming practices, reusing and repurposing products to extend their longevity and reducing our need to consume more, composting, and many more actionable ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Reduce Your Plastic Consumption
More and more research is constantly emerging showing the devastating impacts of the plastic industry. Be mindful of what you’re buying: purchase alternative items not made from plastic (cardboard vs. plastic binder), purchase items that use minimal plastic packing, and refuse single use items like plastic bags, straws, plastic cups, etc.
Call to Action
Use your voice and vote with your dollars. The World Ocean Day organization has launched a 30 x 30 campaign - a call to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030 to preserve healthy oceans. Write to your political leaders! Find an ocean-loving organization to support with volunteer work or support financially. Purchase sustainably sourced fish (or consider not eating seafood trucked to the midwest) and other products that consider environmental impacts on the ocean!
Two great options for learning more as a family:
If you are in the Driftless region, we are hosting two programs in June in conjunction with the Trempealeau Public Library where you can learn more: https://swmlibrary.org/programs/summer-reading-program
Our Nature Storytime videos feature a great book followed by suggested resources and activities:
The Ocean in Your Bathtub by Seth Fishman
The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner
We can do better. We NEED to do better. Help do better.