The 3 Most Pressing Ocean Issues for World Oceans Day

dried shark fins photo by Paul Hilton

Actress Sharon Kwok and 30,000 dried shark fins in Hong Kong: photo by Paul Hilton

This World Oceans Day I would like to reflect on the state of the oceans. There are 3 major issues facing the oceans. They are (in no particular order):

1. Overfishing
2. Climate Change
3. Pollution

1.Overfishing

*It is estimated that 90% of all large fish (and many smaller species) have been fished out of the oceans.

*According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), 53% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.

Fishing can be too efficient with entire schools of fish being caught at once. Fishing can also be incredibly wasteful with by-catch such sea turtles, whales, and sharks when only one fish is being sought (like tuna).

Shark finning is a prime example of overfishing. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed a year. They are killed mainly for their fins, which is used to make shark fin soup. Sharks are top level predators, and their naturally low numbers in the wild reflect that. As a consequence, they are slow to reproduce and cannot keep up with the current levels of fishing.


2.Climate Change

Climate change includes global warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.

Global warming will cause the oceans to become warmer, and may substantially change ocean circulation patterns. This may disrupt natural feeding cycles and may affect the weather. Some ocean species, like coral, only have a narrow range of temperature tolerance and will die if the oceans become too warm.

Global warming will cause polar ice caps to melt, and sea level will rise accordingly. Some island nations will be flooded out of existence.

Ocean acidification occurs when the pH of the seawater decreases and becomes more acidic (think soda pop). This is because the oceans absorb about a quarter of all carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. Ocean acidification will make it harder for some animals to build their calcium based shells, and cause many species to go extinct. Ocean acidification has other deleterious effects that are just being discovered.

sea turtle eating plastic

Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish: photo by dep.state.fl.us

3.Pollution

Pollution can come in many forms, like untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, or sedimentation. The worst offender by far is plastic pollution. Every imaginable bit of plastic ends up in the oceans one way or another. From plastic bags, to unidentifiable microscopic bits, ocean denizens at all levels of the food chain are affected.

Possible Solutions
While the outlook for the three problems mentioned sound bleak, there is hope.

*Marine protected areas (MPAs) can help fisheries become sustainable by being a nursery for the fish caught right outside the MPA borders. Unfortunately only 1% of the oceans are protected.

*You can help by eating only sustainably caught seafood. Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide as a start.

*Curbing carbon dioxide emissions (i.e. using less fossil fuel) by using other alternative energies will help tremendously in slowing down ocean acidification.

*Driving less and using public transportation are ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also consider getting solar power for your home or workplace.

*Plastic pollution is preventable, especially by cutting down the use of single use plastic bags (bring your own bags to the grocery store!), and by supporting local plastic bag bans. We can also pressure manufacturers to use only recyclable packaging.

So this World Oceans Day, please realize that everyday each one of us can make a difference in the health of our oceans!

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