Guest Blog by Tom 'The Blowfish' Hird Marine Biologist and Marine Conservation Society Patron.
It is so easy in today’s world to become swamped by charitable events, awareness drives and a litany of different “world something day”. Now don’t get me wrong, these help push us towards greater understanding, and support of a variety of different issues and are entirely valid. But it can be hard to really commit and make a true change when the social media like or retweet is such second nature. So, with that said and with World Ocean Day upon us, why should you take notice and make a change? Why should you go beyond the retweet and really do something new? In short, why should you care?
Well I personally don’t see the value in assigning so much to such a small expanse of time. Just Twenty-four hours for the entire Ocean? Considering how much of that you might be at work, eating, or asleep, what kind of time do you have left to connect to this conservation conversation?
So you know what, we need to seriously expand World Ocean Day, because every damn day needs to include something positive for our seas. It is way too simple to pile all the good energy into one day and think that it's solved. No, we need that energy every day of the year, because without our oceans, there will be no world we can live in.
Ok, so that's the short and hard of it. Hopefully it cuts through the tokenism and now we can all smash into the real meat of the matter. The oceans are under threat, being struck as they are from all sides in terms of climate change, over fishing, plastic pollution and more. These factors won’t go away in a day, but they can be changed with some simple, but persistent effort from all of us.
Let's take climate change, now this is a big deal and no doubt about that. The oceans make somewhere between 50% and 80% of the oxygen we breathe! So needless to say, it’s fairly important to our survival that they remain in good shape. Climate change is heating up our oceans, which may not seem like that big an issue, but even a small change in temperature can have a big knock on effect. When the oceans warm, this can change the direction and strength of the planet-wide currents that encircle the globe. These currents bring us our weather and help redistribute heat from the equator all around the earth. They also drag up cold, nutrient rich water from the deep ocean, which in turn feeds phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton are the lungs of this planet. You can forget the rainforests and jungles of the tropics, which cover tiny areas of the earth’s surface and produce relatively little global oxygen. It is in the plankton, that rich soup of the sea, which covers 70% of this earth surface and can fill the surface waters with so much life, you can see a plankton bloom from space. Now the problem plankton have is that everything eats it… even plankton eats plankton. Let me explain, you have 2 types of plankton, the aforementioned phytoplankton and then you have the zooplankton. It is the phytoplankton, packed full of energy producing chlorophyll, which takes in sunlight and spews out (among other things) oxygen.
Zooplankton on the other hand is made up of tiny creatures, like microscopic jellyfish, crustaceans and molluscs, who do their very best to feed on the floating solar power plants they share the water with. Outside of this miniature internal massacre starts a food chain which contains the largest animals that have ever lived on planet earth. I won’t go into the “who ate who” of it all, but you get the idea that plankton and particularly the phytoplankton, are about as key to life on earth as you can get. So, when the oceans warm, the plankton warm too, and at first this is great as they become fixed at the sunlit surface waters and can grow at an accelerated rate. But the good times do not last, and this rapid growth depletes the surface water of all necessary nutrients, starving the phytoplankton of fertiliser.
Now normally this would be a temporary issue, as the ocean currents we mentioned before, would eventually pull up some cold, rich water from the deep, and the plankton could carry on carrying on. But when you over heat the oceans, these upwellings begin to weaken. The surface waters stop being refreshed so frequently, and the plankton bloom turns into a plankton bust. Put another way, climate change is strangling the oxygen from our oceans, as phytoplankton get trapped in nutrient deficient deserts and simply stop multiplying. Now, I don’t know about you, but plankton sucking in carbon dioxide and spitting out oxygen sounds a bloody good thing, and probably sounds like it could do with being maintained? Well, it’s going to take more than a token social media post to sort this situation out, but do not worry, it can be fixed.
The thing to remember is that the Mother Nature is always driving towards balance, so if we just take our foot off the gas for a second, the seas will be able to heal themselves. And that’s the first and most actionable point; take your foot off the gas! This past year has been a crazy time for the whole world, and it has certainly made businesses question just how, or rather where, their staff should work. So think about maybe keeping a few days working from home as things open up again, those handfuls of saved weekly journeys add up and do make a difference to your carbon output, as well as your wallet too!
Keep your exercise up, and I don’t mean sign on for the London marathon, but keep going for those short walks to the local shops, or bike rides to your local pub. Any time you can avoid burning some petrol, you’re making a difference. Here’s something even simpler, something you could do right now on your computer without getting off the sofa. Switch your energy provided to one that uses sustainable energy supplies. These companies are getting more and more numerous and their tariffs are often cheaper than the big brands. Pop yourself onto a comparison website and often, they will even switch things over for you too... Winner!
Now, with the airports tentatively starting up again, you might feel a powerful urge to dash off to sunnier shores for a well-earned break, but you might also be feeling some guilt too. After all, aviation is a major polluter when it comes to greenhouse gases, but I’m telling you not to worry. Enjoy your trip! Just do me a favour when you get back, offset your flight with a donation to a seagrass charity.... Supporting Global WAKEcup will mean The Marine Conservation Society get valuable extra funds hint hint ;)
You’ve probably heard of carbon offsetting before, with the general premise being to plant trees to make up for your holiday emissions. Well, this sounds a lot better than it actually is. I won’t go into the details here, but essentially, the current way that tree planting schemes for carbon offsetting work leaves a LOT to be desired. On the other hand, seagrass meadows have the ability to suck a lot more carbon dioxide from the air than trees can, plus they mature faster, provide an incredible habitat to hundreds of different marine species and help protect the shoreline from storm surges and flooding. Put simply, seagrass rocks! So enjoy your sunny sojourn to the south of France, just stick a couple of quid into seagrasses when you return.
So there you are some easy, practical tips to keep you guys living your lives but making a true difference. Remember, whilst World Ocean Day is good, what we really need is a World Ocean Life.
Tom 'The Blowfish' Hird
Heavy Metal Marine Biologist