It is quite sad that not much attention is paid to our oceans. I suspect there are many reasons for this; maybe it is because of a lack of political will or perhaps just the mystique surrounding the oceans. Today, June 8th, the global community has the opportunity to raise the awareness regarding how important our oceans are to sustaining life as we commemorate World Oceans Day. The theme this year is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”. It is critical that we engage in a discourse concerning the state of our oceans, as well as, highlight the value and importance of having a healthy marine ecosystem.
Despite the fact that the ocean covers more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, there is still some mystery with regards to how essential oceans are to the quality of our lives. The ocean plays a significant role in regulating the weather and climate of the planet. Ocean water is constantly evaporating, increasing the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain and storms that are then carried by trade winds. Interestingly, almost all rain that falls on land starts off in the ocean. The ocean also absorbs the majority of the sun’s radiation. Clearly, the link between having healthy oceans and a healthy planet should be visible by now.
An area of concern which needs urgent attention is ocean acidification. Ocean acidification has the potential to speed up global warming considerably. Acidification also negatively affects bacteria from cleaning our oceans. We must then ask ourselves what is ocean acidification? Ocean acidification or (OA) refers to chemical changes in the ocean as a result of carbon dioxide emissions. Disturbingly, the ability of certain fish to detect and escape from predators is decreased in more acidic waters. This chemical change in the ocean has severe and direct implications for human beings, it is likely when these organisms are at risk, the entire food supply many also be threatened. Since the Industrial Revolution, human sources of carbon dioxide emissions have been growing. The burning of oil, coal and gas, as well as, deforestation and cement production are the primary causes of increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. The lack of a political will to find sources of renewable energy is also greatly contributing to the increase in this poisonous gas into the atmosphere. Alarmingly, our governments have become too dependent on economic activity which also destroys the environment. The two main economic sectors which utilize fossil fuels are electricity and transportation. It might be difficult for us to imagine, that there is one global ocean. Our planet is geographically divided into five named oceans. These are the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic. As the ocean heats up, there will be a corresponding change in rainfall pattern. Have you realized how hot it has become in recent times? We clearly need to pay more attention to our oceans and the environment at large. Any change in rainfall pattern could lead to catastrophic implication for our food supply as well as the livelihood for many. There is also a gendered approach surrounding ocean mismanagement. While men are predominantly responsible for imposing policies and programmes which damage or destroy the environment, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the destruction of the environment. This is more pronounced on the African continent where food gathering and collection is done primarily by women in some remote regions. Additionally, more warm water in the tropics could also mean the possibility of more severe hurricanes which will have serious implications for Caribbean societies. Unfortunately, the warmer the oceans become the more the corals are stressed. When the water becomes too warm, stressed corals evict their algae partners. Unfortunately, without the algae, these corals become bleached and die.
Last December governments from close to 200 countries signed the Treaty on Climate Change which aims at reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. However, signing a treaty is the easy part; more commitment is needed from world leaders to achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Treaty. On the other hand, our schools need to be more involved in mattes of the environment. In this aspect, the education ministry should adjust the national curriculum to reflect this.
We must inculcate this consciousness in the younger generation who will take over from us. Where are Jamaica’s young environmentalists? Regretfully, the disconnect between the destruction of the environment and how our lives are impacted is forever widening. One such example is the current outbreak of the Zika Virus which is intricately linked to how we have ill-treated our environment and surroundings. Clearly, we need to become more environmentally conscious. We have dropped the ball as it relates to the protection of the environment and our oceans and now we are reaping the bitter harvest. Interestingly, we cannot place a dollar value on our oceans, there are indeed priceless. Our oceans are alive and most precious. We need to work together today, not tomorrow in an effort to slow ocean warming. Our energy policy needs a paradigm shift towards that of green energy. Green energy is energy produced in such a way as to minimize the negative effects of the environment. Traditional energy sources, most notably, fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change and global warming. We need to explore alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro energy. Now is a good time for us to recommit and redouble our efforts on this World Oceans Day to protect our oceans in order for us to have a healthy planet. We cannot achieve sustainable development without having an effective ocean management policy. In the words of Sylvia Earle with every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea.
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Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.