Our Ailing Oceans

Today is World Wildlife Day, and this year’s theme is “Life Below Water: for people and planet.”

We are born of the oceans.  In the theory of the primordial soup put forth independently by two scientists – Russian scientist Alexander Oparin and English geneticist John Haldane – they’d stipulated that life began in the oceans. This theory was rejected some decades later, but even so, it is agreed that the oceans set conditions for the beginning of life.

As humans, we are destroying the cradle of life with our polluting tendencies.  Some of the effects of our ways are heartbreaking.  The web of life is being disrupted in disastrous ways.

  1. Sea turtles are dying.  Their  stomachs, on post mortem exams, have revealed them to be filled with tiny bits of plastic which they likely mistook for food. Also, sadly they are getting caught on fishing nets put out by deep sea fishers. Heartbreaking videos abound of plastic straws getting caught in the nostrils of turtles, strong nylon fishing nets strangling them to death. Poaching and global warming are lending a hand. Red tides and chemical pollutants can be added to the list.

2. Plastics are major pollutants of the ocean.  Here‘s an article on deep ocean pollution. A recent addition includes microplastics from microfibers and microbeads. Living in cities and leading fast lives makes it easy to avoid seeing the bigger picture of the effects our daily lives have on the flora and fauna around us. When I first learnt of microbeads in face wash products a decade ago, I completely stopped buying such products and always read labels carefully. I’ve tried to get plastic out of my life, but it is very hard to completely eliminate the substance. I’ve settled for refusing to buy use-and-throw articles and for buying quality things that can last for a long time and possibly reused in a different way. Even that is hard and requires a lot of dedication, which understandably is sometimes lacking in busy family life.

Photo credit: RitaE

3. It used to be that hunter gatherers took only what they needed and maybe just a little more to tide over cold weather. But with the advent of the industrial age, we take more and more from resources that should have been easily renewed, without consideration of life cycles and health of our ecosystems.  Here‘s a detailed article on fish exploitation. Nature’s abundance should not be construed as something to feed our greed.

4. Global warming has become a serious threat to ocean life. Warmer sea temperatures are killing coral reefs. Hot temperatures are increasing the frequency of storms. Phytoplanktons, so very important in the marine food chain, are also responsible for oxygen production. In fact, most of the oxygen on the planet are produced in the oceans. Warming of waters is also reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the oceans, causing hardship to marine life that depend on this.

 5. Humans are a very noisy species. Oceans used to be a relatively silent world and many of the bigger marine creatures, like whales and dolphins, use sound as a form of communication. The increase in marine vessels, especially motor boats and ships, and formation of dedicated shipping lanes has affected sea life drastically. It has been found by researchers that whales now have to shout at each other to be heard. Tourist motorboats are especially a nuisance, I discovered. In a recent trip to Goa, I was interested in taking my kids to a tour on the waters to sight dolphins, off the coast of Miramir beach. Several years ago, I had gone on a boating tour along the backwaters near Alleppey, a silent journey in quiet waters, where we hardly created a ripple. This Goan ocean tour was quite the opposite – many people talking loudly over the roar of the boat, with the loudest music possible blasting from the vessel. We eventually managed to sight a couple of dolphins leaping in the waters at a distance but that I consider a miracle, with all the racket we were making. Had I known it would be like this, I would’ve refused to go on the boat. Noise travels four times faster in water. We are seriously disrupting the quiet lives of our marine neighbors.

Photo credit: Comfreak

6. Oil pollution is a serious threat to marine life. A small percentage is natural, such as seepage from the ocean floors. Most of it, however, is because of human activities and negligence. Shipping, deep-sea drilling, industrial activities, accidents are all choking sea life. Oil spillage is also very hard to clean up. The beaches along the west coast of India have black sand. I’ve visited a few beaches and feel saddened to see the rainbow hues and glitters that betray the presence of oil on the sands, disfiguring and dirtying what should’ve been pristine golden beaches.

We are proud to call our planet the Blue Planet. It forms a beautiful marble-like vision from outer space and we see so much water, the only planet of our solar system that has it in its liquid, life-sustaining form. It is a gift, a privilege, not a right to use and misuse as we please. We are supposed to be thinking beings. Let us show the side of us that we call human.

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