As global warming and climate change become major problems of our society, it is relevant to celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8. Acting as the lungs of our planet, the oceans give us the majority of the oxygen we breathe. The international day’s purpose is to make people aware of their impacts on the ocean—creating a universal movement centered on the preservation of various oceans. Having a sense of unity, the event enables individuals to come together and contribute to the worldwide project of sustaining the world’s big masses of salt water. Other than providing oxygen to Earth’s inhabitants, the oceans also offer food and medicines to other creatures and human beings. A time to raise awareness on marine life, World Oceans Day is a perfect way to revel the natural beauty, value, and promise of the ocean.
Dureece Wayne Byrde, an inhabitant of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, stated that the ocean is not only vital for certain industries, such as shipping and fishing, but also forms a place of meeting and pride for people.
“The ocean allows for industries such as fishing and tourism, which have diverse contributions to the economies of the island. For health, studies have not yet fully confirmed benefits of frequently visiting the ocean, but I believe something can be said of the mental benefit and stress release that doing so allows for,” Byrde said.
The incoming freshman at Northwestern University continued his discussion on how corals reefs are simply crucial to the natural ecosystem in the ocean as well as to the environment around islands. He stated that with their loss, we can expect to see the gradual extinction of several species. “Preservation efforts are being done on some of the islands, and it includes activities, such as replanting the coral reef in areas where it has been destroyed,” he went on. These efforts have proven to be successful, and it’s a model other islands can choose to follow. Byrde voiced his opinion on how we lose corals with rising temperatures. Due to their sensitivity, a change in ocean temperature renders the water unlivable for the species. He added, “I believe the ocean was viewed as fundamentally different to land—in the sense that it wasn’t something people could firmly colonize, claim or physically alter. But with events such as overfishing and the damaging of coral reefs, people began to see that the ocean too needed protection.”
In preserving the world’s oceans, we face the challenge of pollution, overfishing and climate change. These issues severely threaten the existence of many species, oceanic ecosystems and humanity’s well-being. According to Byrde, restoration is a gradual process. The first step is awareness and raising a fundamental understanding among people that the ocean is a highly valuable aspect of our planet that allows for civilization.
“Local efforts are beneficial, with people learning to play their part in helping to remove pollution from the ocean and prevent the instances of overfishing. Ultimately, it will take the work of several countries, and possibly work from companies, in order restore the ocean on a more massive scale,” Byrde said.
Ocean pollution is caused by the materials we use every day. Plastics, metals and other objects that find their way into the ocean affect the well-being of marine animals. “Often times, pollution results in animals mistaking the trash for food or being choked by it,” Byrde stated. “Chemical pollution is also an issue, because it renders habitats unlivable for a much longer time period.”
The St. Croix inhabitant talked about how plastics are used in many of our products, which could find its way to the ocean in runoffs, carried by the wind when it’s littered on the ground. “If we reduce litter and other means of careless waste management, we can reduce the amount of non-degradable material that ends up in the ocean,” Byrde explains. Justin Ocampo, an incoming freshman at University of Hawaii located at Manoa, shared his opinion on how climate change impacts coral reefs in harmful ways. These include warmer waters resulting in coral bleaching and an increase in coral diseases, ocean acidification and dramatic changes in how the weather alters the ecosystem function.
“It took so long for conservationists to turn their attentions to the oceans due to a lack of awareness and knowledge of how the ocean was being impacted by human activity. This has changed over time with advancements in technology as it provided many images of the ocean and how it has been affected by humans. Now, this is an area ripe for study, activism, and change,” Byrde concluded.
Ocampo concluded by stating that the best way to restore and maintain ocean health is to establish more marine reserves.
With the ocean being a vital part of island culture, Jasmine Diaz, an incoming freshman at Loyola University Maryland, stated that the ocean creates perfect beaches and scenery for the tourism economy. “It provides a space for the paddling community to exist—a perfect way to get your exercise in and learn to respect the ocean,” the Guam resident said. Diaz provided simple several methods to save coral reefs such as educating others about coral reefs, leaving them alone when you dive and using reef-safe sunscreen. She added that businesses can be more environmentally-friendly by lessening the amount of disposable plastic use in the company—whether it be in the office with plastic cups, from iced coffee, or in production of goods.
She voiced her opinion, “I think banning plastic straws is the catalyst for banning other types of single-use plastics. Therefore, I definitely think that banning plastic straws will help reduce plastic pollution in the ocean.” Currently, there few new solutions for cleaning up the plastics in the oceans, especially in large quantities—an expensive and monumental challenge. According to these islanders, ocean pollution impacts tourism by spoiling the beauty that beaches and oceanic landmarks have come to offer. Having water that no longer has a thriving ecosystem, or is no longer blue, greatly reduces a country’s ability to attract visitors. With the celebration World Oceans Day, it is time to raise awareness and be part of a movement that can gradually reduce marine pollution.
Photo: Boracay Compass