Nestled comfortably between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is World Oceans Day. Although originally proposed in 1992, this year was the first year that World Oceans Day has been officially declared by the United Nations. It is now June 8th every year!
Sadly, the world’s oceans really need this recognition. We are up against quite a few challenges in keeping them healthy, clean, and beautiful. The recently lost Air France airplane has highlighted the problem of trash in the ocean as recovery crews found it difficult to decipher between floating trash and airplane pieces. One of the biggest trash problems we have to contend with is a big garbage heap in the Pacific Ocean. While it is commonly called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” there are actually two patches. The way the ocean currents come together and create giant vortexes of water—think water going down the drain of your bath tub, but at a much larger scale—the trash in the ocean gets stuck in the middle and forms giant patches. These patches have actually been estimated to be twice the size of the continental United States. So, what’s the problem? Well, one is plastic. It makes up most of the trash heap. Floating plastic bags can look a lot like jellyfish to hungry sea turtles and other animals. Those plastic rings that hold together your six-pack of soda can also spell trouble as they can strangle or deform entangled animals.
The garbage heap isn’t the only problem. We have dead zones in the oceans, with the most notorious being in the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones are exactly what they sound like, places in the ocean where animals cannot survive because there simply isn’t enough oxygen. The Mississippi River, which runs right through the heartland of America, collects nutrients from excess fertilizers of farms and dumps these nutrients into the Gulf. They create a chain of events that depletes of the water of oxygen.
So, we’ve got trash and we’ve got dead zones. They are just a few of the problems. We also have ice bergs melting and sea levels rising due to climate change. Some marine animals are scrambling to find cooler waters. Coral reefs are bleaching due to increased temperatures and sun light. We have problems from pollution in addition to dead zones. Mercury and other toxins in the oceans are working their way up the food chain and polluting some types of fish. Sounds, such as from active sonars, are also polluting the waters and wreaking havoc on marine mammal species that need sound to find food, mates, and possibly even up from down. Fishing is changing the composition of eco-systems. Fish are being over-fished. Marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, sharks, and many other animals are getting accidentally caught in fishing gear. It sure makes you wonder what else had to die so you could have cod for dinner.
Overwhelmed yet? I am. I think the world’s oceans are certainly overdue for their day of recognition! Considering the oceans help generate oxygen to breathe, control our climate and prevent us from entering another ice age, give us food to eat, and provide beaches for soaking in the sun, I think we have a lot to thank them for. Oceans, you may only get one day a year, but thanks for the 364 others. Happy World Oceans Day.