I am a Dawn Wildlife Ambassador; this is a partnered post.
I’ve lived walking distance from the beach for over 20 years, so the ocean holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite sights. Today, June 8th marks World Ocean’s Day, a chance to celebrate and protect our precious oceans. In honor of this day, I had the privilege to interview marine scientist Dr. Ellen Prager about the environmental threats to our oceans – and the easy ways that we can all pitch in to help protect them.
What are some of the biggest environmental concerns for our oceans?
Our oceans are under siege. Human impacts have accumulated over decades and now, more than ever, we are seeing the consequences and it is horrible for the ocean and worse for us. My top five problems in the ocean today are climate change, pollution, overfishing and illegal fishing, loss of critical habitats, and invasive species.
Due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is increasing to a point unseen on Earth for millions of years and temperatures are warming at an unnatural and accelerated pace. Ninety percent of the excess heat has been taken up by the ocean and seawater temperatures are on the rise. Many animals in the ocean are adapted to a specific range of temperature and when change happens too fast they cannot adapt. Coral reefs are in real trouble. Coral bleaching due to prolonged high ocean temperatures has occurred throughout the world at an unprecedented level over that past few years, particularly in the Caribbean and on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Some corals may recover if conditions improve, but other corals cannot recover and widespread mortality is occurring. This is especially true if other factors such as pollution, overfishing, or invasive species make coral reefs less resilient and less able to cope with stress. Climate change is also causing the acidity of the ocean to increase due to more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere being absorbed into the ocean. This impacts biological functions in the ocean and in particular those organisms who have a shell or skeleton made of calcium carbonate. Other impacts related to climate change are the spread of dead zones, sea level rise, and changing ecology, especially in polar climates.
Pollution now impacts even the most remote parts of the ocean. From plastic to excess nutrients, sedimentation, sewage, oil, and other chemicals we are dumping our wastes into the ocean and causing harm to the very resources we so rely on for food, recreation, tourism, jobs, economic revenue, biotechnology, new pharmaceutical compounds, and more.
Overfishing and illegal fishing have and continue to decimate fish populations throughout the world. Along with this, we are losing critical habitats such as seagrass beds, mangroves, coral reefs, and kelp beds all of which often act as a nursery for young fish and are an important habitat for many species. And finally, non-native species are being transported or released into waters where they can outcompete native species and cause irreparable ecologic harm. The poster child for this in the Great Lakes has been the zebra mussel, while in Florida, the Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico it is the lionfish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Do you have any tips for what steps readers can take at home with their families to help conserve the oceans?
Your readers can definitely help to conserve and better protect the oceans. Making sure to dispose of their trash properly and recycle as much as possible is important as is reminding others to do the same. Reduce use of plastics as much as is realistic and conserve energy wherever possible. As a consumer and voter they also have power to help the ocean. Let your political representatives on a local, state, and national level know that the coasts and oceans are important and you want better investment and policies to protect the ocean. What you buy makes a difference as well. Choosing sustainable seafood choices promotes improved management of fisheries, The Safina Center and Monterey Bay Aquarium both have excellent programs and guides that you can find online with information on good, okay, and poor seafood choices.
Readers and their families can also support ocean conservation by going to aquariums, participating in beach clean-ups, and by supporting organizations that are working to help the oceans. Two excellent rescue organizations that DAWN supports are International Bird Rescue (https://www.bird-rescue.org) and The Marine Mammal Center (http://www.marinemammalcenter
What are some good resources for further reading on this topic? Can you recommend any materials that parents can share with their children?
For reading for kids, of course I am biased, I’d highly recommend my fiction series for middle graders: Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians as it combines fun, fast-reading adventure and humor with learning about marine life and real-world ocean issues (Book 1 is The Shark Whisperer). The books can be found online (Amazon or others) or ordered through most book stores. I also have fun books for younger kids as well as popular science for a slightly older audience. My favorite book high school and above is Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Ocean’s Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter.
A few websites with good information: