A little Bird Told Me…#4 :

Edition: Oceans by Joe Wilkins

At time of writing, many people around the country are heading to the coast. 

Why do we flock to the coast? Is it the open space? The cooling sea breeze? The sounds? I guess everybody has their own reasons for wanting to be beside the sea (we’d love to hear yours – @ukyouthfornature on social media!)

When I started planning this blog, I thought I would know exactly the direction it was going to take. But as I started writing, I realised there were so many topics and issues I wanted to cover. Did I want to focus on my personal love of the sea? Marine biodiversity? Access to the coast and the ocean? The ocean is such an important part of my life that I wanted to be sure that this blog did it justice.

So, I decided to use this blog as a chance to introduce a few different themes and areas of interest and serve a conversation starter for myself and you, the readers.

The State of the Ocean

“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.”

Arthur C. Clarke

The ocean covers nearly three-quarters of our planet’s surface and was long thought to be too large for human activities to impact. But this is no longer the case (Pink, 2018). We are seeing large-scale changes in ocean chemistry, biology, and dynamics globally (Gattuso et al., 2015). With the threats of sea level rise, ocean warming, and acidification set to impact many countries worldwide, governments worldwide must begin looking to humanities future relationship with the ocean (IUCN, 2017). This will involve creating and implementing policy and management strategies that, firstly, reduce the impact of human activities on the sea and, secondly, reduce the effects of ocean change on coastal socio-ecological systems, particularly those increasingly vulnerable to said change. 

But what is actually being done? In a word: nothing.

It’s been nearly two months since World Ocean Day (June 8th), when businesses and world leaders were making big promises to protect the ocean. But shockingly, they haven’t followed through on any of these commitments.

Let’s do a roundup of the last month in ocean conservation:

  • The High Seas/BBNJ Treaty signing has been delayed.
  • The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 has been delayed to 2022.
  • The Gulf of Mexico was on FIRE from a ruptured pipeline.
  • The UK Government is likely to approve the drilling of massive oil field in the North Sea. Seriously? We need to #stopcambo
  • The MV X-Press Pearl Disaster has caused unknown damage to marine ecosystems in Sri Lanka.
  • Seas continue to warm.
  • It’s looking likely that Deep Sea Mining will be entering the exploitation phase in the near future. We still know so little about the deep sea and the impacts of DSM but in my opinion, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. 
What needs to be done?

This is question could be answered in a variety of different ways, depending on your area of interest. Here’s some things that spring to my mind straight away, beyond the simple “we need to protect our seas” statement often heard.

Building a love for the sea

Education is an extremely valuable tool in the fight against ocean destruction. Ocean science and conservation can be an incredibly gate-kept sector, even in comparison to other environmental studies and activism. The ocean itself can seem very distant for many people, with them feeling extremely far removed from the ocean.

Governments need to invest in nature- and ocean-based education, with funding for hands-on experiences for children and young people. Speaking from personal experience, these are extremely important to building a love and appreciation of our natural world and in this case the ocean. This is especially true for those in marginalised communities, who may not have the opportunity to otherwise.

“People protect what they love.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Renowned Oceanographer

Allowing people to act on this love

Governments need to be put in place mechanisms that enable people to act upon their values. This is an issue that extends beyond the individual. Mainly this should be targeted at large businesses and corporations who have the audacity to charge extra for ‘sustainable’ options. Create a system where it doesn’t cost extra to be environmentally friendly. We need to hold companies to account and, as our representatives, governments should be acting in our best interests, not those of FTSE100 companies

Realising that technology forms only a part of the solution

This is a recurring problem globally. Many governments, particularly those who prioritise economic growth and business, look for technological development and solutions to allow business to continue to grow, often at the expense of communities and the environment. This solution is further pushed by businesspeople and industrialists globally. The most recent example was billionaire founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, suggesting that the spraying of chalk dust into the atmosphere could be the solution to climate change (Ramirez, 2021). Another ocean-based example is the pre-eminence of the plastic pollution problem among those facing the oceans and technological ‘clean-up’ solutions (Stanton, Johnson & Kay, 2020). A recent study by Hohn et al. (2020) found that clean-up technology alone will not tackle the issue of plastic pollution, but that behavioural change in our consumption and production patterns are required. Yet, this receives less prominence than ‘tech’ solutions and start-ups.

Many scholars in risk and resilience theory question the ability of technology to solve a problem caused by technology itself. Technology will play a role but there is a greater need for behavioural and systemic change rather than focusing solely on technological solutions. 

So, in short, world leaders and policymakers have a long way to go on our journey towards protecting the world’s ocean.

A personal note…

As you may have gathered, I’m extremely passionate about protecting marine environments.
The ocean is possibly the most important component of Earth’s life support system, impacting every inhabitant of this planet, even those thousands of miles from the nearest coast.

But on a personal level, I’m happiest when in the sea and that is a big reason I want to see our seas healthy and thriving. The world beneath the waves has always called me (Moana who?)! So, my desire for ocean protection may not be completely altruistic (don’t @ me).

References

Gattuso, J., Magnan, A., Billé, R., Cheung, W. W. L., Howes, E. L., Joos, F., Allemand, D., Bopp, L., Cooley, S. R., Eakin, C. M., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Kelly, R. P., Pörtner, H. o., Rogers, A. D., Baxter, J. M., Laffoley, D., Osborn, D., Rankovic, A., Rochette, J., Sumaila, U. R., Treyer, S. & Turley, C. (2015) Contrasting Futures for Ocean and Society from Different Anthropogenic CO 2 Emissions Scenarios. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science). 349 (6243), aac4722. Available from: https://hal.sorbonne-universite.fr/hal-01176217. Available from: doi: 10.1126/science.aac4722.

Pink, J. (2018) 5 ways that climate change affects the ocean. The Conversation.

Stanton, T., Johnson, M. & Kay, P. (2020) The war against plastic is distracting us from pollution that cannot be seen. The Conversation. Available from: https://theconversation.com/the-war-against-plastic-is-distracting-us-from-pollution-that-cannot-be-seen-147161 [Accessed 29/04/2021].

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