Posts Tagged 'Ocean Conservation'



The Ocean, Our Planet’s Final Frontier

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In Barcelona in 2006, oceanographer Sylvia Earle received an international award for her storied career as an ocean explorer. Also honored that day was John Hanke, developer of the now-famous Earth visualization tool Google Earth. Smiling slyly, Dr. Earle commended John for creating an amazing new way to view the world, then asked, “When do you plan to finish it? You’ve done a great job with the land—‘Google Dirt.’ What about the ocean?” Thus challenged, John asked Sylvia and her team to help him fix this oversight and in early 2009, we unveiled Ocean in Google Earth, offering earthlings a global view of the ocean’s vast bathymetry.

This story illustrates a truth about how many of us think (or more accurately, don’t think) about the ocean. Though half the world’s population lives within 50 miles of a coast, the cliché “out of sight, out of mind” describes the way most of us relate to the expansive, interconnected ocean that covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of its water.

This blue planet is indeed a water planet, yet incredibly, over 90 percent of the ocean remains unexplored and unseen by humans. In a world that’s increasingly tamed and cataloged, it’s astounding to learn that until last year, only two human beings had been to the ocean’s greatest depth: Challenger Deep, off the Mariana Islands. That epic descent occurred in 1960—before we’d even ventured into space! Just last year, one more explorer made the voyage: renowned filmmaker James Cameron piloted a new craft, Deepsea Challenger, there and back. I suspect we’ll soon be treated to some spectacular footage of a world we understand less than we do the planet Mars.

Experts believe that up to two-thirds of the plant and animal species in the ocean may still await our discovery, with as many as one million species of non-bacterial sealife yet to be identified. In other words, we’ve only scratched the ocean’s surface.

Scientists, poets and philosophers have referred to the ocean as our planet’s life-support system, its blue lungs. Our air, weather, freshwater, climate and much of our food are ultimately regulated, moderated or provided by the sea’s seemingly limitless bounty. Over 2.6 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein. And we count on the ocean to absorb more than 30 percent of the climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) we produce.

Yet for all these benefits (called ‘ecosystem services’ by ecologists), the ocean cannot sustain our unrelenting onslaught. We put in too many bad things, take out too many good things, and reconfigure its shores, chemistry and balance. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have calculated that the ocean absorbs and stores 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere, yet it’s no secret that atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas are rising at an alarming rate and now routinely approach 400 parts per million; at this rate, we are poised to double pre-Industrial Revolution CO2 levels in the next few decades. And, in case you’re wondering, human-influenced climate change is no longer mere theory, as if it ever were. In a review of 12,000 papers published in research journals, 97 percent of the authors—atmospheric scientists who seldom agree on anything—concur that it is directly attributed to human activities.

Against this gloomy backdrop, one might ask, “What hope is there?” In my view, there’s plenty. We have never known so much about aquatic systems and the delicate interplay between them. We’ve doubled the area of our National Marine Sanctuary system over the past decade. We have a National Ocean Policy and a nascent implementation plan, the first in our nation’s history. Whether in fisheries management, ecosystem thinking or product life-cycle planning, we’re learning from our past and planning a better future.

Here at National Aquarium, we value the conservation of aquatic treasures—by which we mean habitats and inhabitants, human and non-human, individual and community. By definition, treasures are worth protecting. World Oceans Day is one way of celebrating such oceanic treasures. This year, I invite you to embrace a thought, one shared by all of us who commit our lives to the sea: the ocean matters to me and to those I love. With every drop of water you drink and every breath you take, you are connected to this complex ecosystem, whether you live on the coast, in the mountains, in a city or a desert.

Simply by existing, the ocean gives us the gift of life. It’s time we returned the favor.

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Thoughtful Thursdays: Looking Past World Oceans Day

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If you ask anyone to use one word to describe the ocean, you’ll most likely hear one of the following; amazing, awesome, powerful, wonderful, hypnotic, miraculous, magical, vast, incredible, inspiring, etc. Of course, there are many, many more descriptive words for the sea, but these are the most popular – and the most emotional. They all communicate much more than a technical description. These are words that evoke deep sensitivities. Maybe it is because we know the ocean provides for us – or that we depend on it for so many things or maybe it is because we are instinctively aware of our deep connection to the ocean.

Few things are more peaceful than staring out at the ocean!

Few things are more peaceful than staring out at the ocean!

June 8th is World Oceans Day. At the National Aquarium, we will take this opportunity to talk to our guests and community about why we love the ocean and why it deserves our protection. We will also spend some time talking about the challenges that the ocean is facing, challenges like pollution, global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification and overfishing. This weekend, we’ll offer activities designed to provide ideas on ocean-friendly choices we all can make at home and we’ll invite our visitors to join us at one of our upcoming ocean conservation events. I hope you’ll be able to join us this weekend!

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

More importantly, once you go back to your normal lives next week, I’d like to ask that you continue your passion for our oceans. Take what you learned on World Oceans Day and incorporate them into your daily routines. I know this is easier said than done – so I’d like to offer some tips on how to make this easier:

  • Decide what you love most about the ocean. This could be its plants or animals, beaches, recreation opportunities or its resources!
  • Find ways you can help what you love. Research some of challenges our ocean is facing and identify those that particularly effect the thing you love the most. I.e. if you love sea turtles, you might want to work on plastics pollution, fisheries bycatch issues, nesting beach protection or endangered species conservation.
  • Decide on one thing you will change in your life that will make a positive change. Now you know you want to help reduce the amount of plastics in the ocean. You can decide if you want to help remove what is already there (participate in community cleanup events like the International Coastal Cleanup) or reduce what our society is adding to the problem by decreasing or eliminating some single-use plastics (like water bottles and disposable coffee cups) in your life.
  • Commit to making that change a permanent part of your daily routine by World Ocean’s Day 2014. Honestly, changing your daily routine is not easy. It will not happen overnight and will take significant and ongoing commitment – even for seemingly easy changes. So I’m also asking you to give yourself a break. Give yourself time to make this happen. Make a World Oceans Day Resolution! Commit to making a change this year, set a goal, mark your progress throughout the year and then, ideally, you will reach your goal by next World Oceans Day!
  • Celebrate your success and share your stories with us along the way! Give yourself a pat on the back. Committing to, working towards and ultimately hitting your goal was not easy and you deserve to feel proud. Maybe you volunteered for 3 cleanup events and helped remove 60 lbs. of trash that otherwise would have made its way into our ocean. Maybe you stopped buying bottled water and removed 365 bottles from the waste stream. Congratulations! You’re making a difference. Share your stories with us so that your successes can help inspire others to make a difference for our oceans. Warning: Helping our ocean can be addictive. I predict (and hope) that this one commitment will lead to others along the way.

The ocean is a treasure worthy of our respect and admiration. Thank you in advance for making a difference!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Let’s Create a Sea of Social Support for the Ocean!

On June 8, organizations and communities from around the world will celebrate the Earth’s largest life-support system, the ocean. World Oceans Day, first celebrated in 2002, was established to help educate others on how much of an impact the ocean has on our lives and what we need to do to protect it!

National Aquarium is celebrating World Oceans Day with special blog posts throughout the week, featuring important issues relating to ocean conservation, and by hosting celebrations at both our Washington, DC and Baltimore venues this weekend!

As part of the festivities, we’re asking our communities online and on-site to share a photo of their best fish face and a conservation pledge to help take care of our blue planet! Get ready to pucker up!

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Throughout the week, be sure to share your photos with us on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #puckerup! And be sure to check back with us because we’ll be sharing some of your favorite photos/pledges! Check out some of the staff here at the Aquarium showing off their best fish faces:

Here are some simply conservation pledges you can include:

  • I pledge to conserve water. It’s as easy as shortening your shower time and turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth!
  • I pledge to use less plastic. Invest in a re-usable water bottle! Keep plastic water bottles out of the ocean and a couple of dollars in your pocket!
  • I pledge to conserve energy. Reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere by riding a bike, walking or using public transportation and by turning off the lights when you leave a room!
  • I pledge to eat only sustainable seafood. Overfishing can lead to an irreparable loss in certain seafood populations. You can prevent this by avoiding catching or eating certain species that have been exploited.
  • I pledge to learn more about the ocean and its inhabitants. It is only through continued education and exploration that we can truly have a better understanding of the ocean and how we’re impacting it.

In addition to our #puckerup campaign, we’ve also started a “Why do YOU love the ocean?” community discussion on Twitter! Do you have a favorite memory/story related to the ocean or its inhabitants? Tell the world right here!

This World Oceans Day, we want to show our blue planet a SEA of social support! The pledges we collect this week will join thousands of others collected by conservation organizations around the world!

Follow the conversations around World Oceans Day on Twitter using #oceanlove and don’t forget to PUCKER UP! 

This World Oceans Day, Let’s Celebrate How Water Connects Us All

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On June 8, organizations and communities from around the world will join to celebrate the Earth’s largest life-support system, the ocean. World Oceans Day, first celebrated in 2002, was established to help educate others on how much of an impact the ocean has on our lives and what we need to do to protect it!

Why we should celebrate the ocean, by the numbers: 

For 2.6 billion people, the ocean is their primary source of protein.

For 3 billion people, the ocean is their livelihood.

For all of us, the ocean absorbs more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, slowing climate change and allowing us a quality of life that, without the ocean, would not be possible (if we could survive at all).

A recent estimate suggests that there may be as many as 1 million species of non-bacterial life in the world’s waterways YET to be identified.

Though Earth is 70 percent water, an incredible 90 percent of this aquatic real estate has yet to be discovered.

While it’s great for the global community to unify this day in celebration of the ocean, here are five easy ways you can protect this vital resource every day:

  1. Reduce your energy use
    Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels can lead to ocean acidification, which is harmful to ocean life. You can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere by riding a bike, walking or using public transportation and by turning off the lights when you leave a room.
  2. Use less plastic
    When plastic debris ends up in the ocean, animals can mistake it for food and eat it by accident, causing animals to choke or clogging their digestive systems. You can prevent this by limiting plastic use and always disposing of trash properly. Choose reusable items such as cloth grocery bags or refillable water bottles.
  3. Cut apart six-pack rings
    The plastic rings used for soda containers can pose a threat to marine life. Creatures can get caught in the rings and sometimes are unable to free themselves. You can help save these animals by cutting apart the rings before throwing them in the trash.
  4. Conserve water
    Reducing your water use can minimize wastewater runoff into the ocean, preventing chemicals and other contaminants from damaging marine habitats. You can conserve water by taking quicker showers and turning off the water when brushing your teeth.
  5. Eat sustainable seafood
    Overfishing can lead to an irreparable loss in certain seafood populations. To prevent this, avoid catching or eating certain species that have been exploited, such as bluefin tuna and Chilean seabass. Visit seafoodwatch.org for more sustainable seafood recommendations!

A Blue View: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 29, 2013: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss how the changing
global climate is impacting on our oceans.

Say you visit the same spot on the same ocean every year. You take a swim, and it feels pretty much like the last time. The temperature doesn’t seem all that different. You certainly can’t tell that the pH is changing.

Yet just as the global climate is changing, so too is the ocean’s chemistry. Alongside atmospheric climate change, ocean acidification is one of the most serious issues affecting the waters of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Ocean acidification has only recently entered the public’s consciousness, though scientists have been studying and predicting the phenomenon for some time. Many estimate that the ocean absorbs approximately 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide, which reacts with sea water to form carbonic acid. The resultant decrease in pH means the water becomes more acidic, with disastrous effects on animals that depend on their shells and exoskeletons to survive.

Though the media has taken to calling ocean acidification our “new climate threat,” it is not a new problem. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been increasing in our atmosphere and therefore our seawater. Now, over 200 years later, we can no longer ignore the threat. Even conservative estimates suggest that by 2100, global ocean waters will warm nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average and acidity will increase by 150 percent.

So what does this mean for ocean wildlife? Clearly, the sea’s complex food web will be disrupted. Highly mobile animals will be forced to expand their home ranges as they search for more hospitable waters. Sadly, coral reefs as we know them will be forever altered and could even disappear. Animals will struggle to build skeletons and shells in waters that literally dissolve them. And growth and reproductive capabilities of numerous marine animals will be at risk.

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is not immune to these dramatic changes. In fact, according to NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the Bay is being affected at a faster rate than the global average because land in this region is already subsiding naturally. Bay temperatures have already increased almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960 and are projected to increase by an additional 3 to 10 degrees by 2100—a tremendous change that will have a profound effect on the nation’s largest estuary. Increased acidification of the Bay will alter its delicate balance in other ways. For example, according to marine geologist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, blue crabs could grow larger, while the creatures they eat, including oysters and clams, could suffer from weaker, slower-growing shells. These bivalves, in addition to being an integral part of the food chain, also contribute to healthier water quality by filtering huge quantities of Bay water. The moral: damage one small species and you affect the entire Chesapeake Bay.

We cannot simply undo the impacts of ocean acidification. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere today will continue to accumulate for decades. There is hope, however, and as always, it starts with each of us. Reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and minimizing our collective carbon footprint isn’t just the best way forward, it’s the only way. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov, “For all is like an ocean. All flows and connects. Touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”


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