“No matter who or where we are, we are all dipping our toes in the same enormous connecting body of water. It’s our ocean and it’s our shared responsibility to look after it.”– Sue Ranger, Marine Conservation Society
The story of the ocean is the story of humanity. As long as humans have existed, we have depended upon the ocean for our most basic needs, relied on livelihoods that are intrinsically tied to it, and travelled upon it to reach all corners of the earth. For centuries, it has been the inspiration for poetry, art, and music that explore a connection between humans and the sea that goes far beyond the practical or tangible. And we are not alone; the ocean is not merely our own life source, but home to the majority of the species we share our planet with, covering 70% of its surface. It is, after all, the reason we call Earth the “Blue Planet”.
And yet we find ourselves at a tipping point. While human activity and pollution increasingly place ocean health at severe risk, the ocean remains one of our best hopes for fighting the climate change that is destroying it and the planet at large. As the source for at least 50% of the world’s oxygen and capable of absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, a larger and more effective carbon sink than trees, the ocean is an ally that we cannot afford to lose. World Oceans Day on 8 June is a day not only to celebrate the ocean in all of its beauty, but to sound the alarm as to what will happen to us and to the planet if we continue to take more from the ocean than it can afford to give.
Improving Ocean Literacy with Marine Conservation Society
To mark World Oceans Day 2022, UNRIC spoke to Sue Ranger, Social Science Lead at the Marine Conservation Society, about their vital work fighting for a cleaner, healthier, better-protected ocean that is all too often taken for granted.
How important is the ocean to our daily life and livelihoods?
Each and every life on our planet – people included – depends on the ocean. Without water there is no life and the ocean holds 97% of the water on our planet. Half our oxygen comes from marine plants. Seafood is the largest traded food commodity in the world, providing livelihoods and nourishment for billions of people. Life thrives because we live on Planet Ocean. But the ocean doesn’t only make life possible – it is also part of what makes life worth living. Science has proven that time spent in, on, under or beside water makes people healthier and happier.
Whereabouts does the Marine Conservation Society work?
The Marine Conservation Society works across all four countries in the UK as well as in the UK Overseas Territories, particularly in the Caribbean. We’re involved in a huge range of projects from mass beach cleans and surveys to Marine Protected Areas, seagrass and oyster bed restoration, campaigns on persistent chemicals and education and community engagement depending on local needs. But, all of this work is aimed at a handful of key goals – we put all our energy into trying to ensure that our one precious ocean is cleaner, healthier and better protected for everyone.
What are the most significant threats to ocean health today?
I believe that possibly the most significant threat to ocean health is a lack of ocean literacy. Most people have no idea how they benefit from the ocean and how the way they behave and the decisions they make impact the ocean – and this is true both for ordinary people and people in positions of power. The ocean is critical to global well-being, and yet we are not prioritising ocean health. We are still polluting our water, overfishing and further degrading habitats. Damaging commercial activities like dredging and trawling disturb the seabed, interfering with the work the ocean does to capture and store carbon. But change is possible – positive action has shown that it is possible for governments, institutions and individuals to adopt pro-ocean policies. We are seeing moves towards net zero, circular economies, more sustainable diets and more ambitious marine protection.
Does the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which runs from 2021 to 2030, offer hope for a sustainable future?
A valuable focus of the UN Ocean Decade is to increase Ocean Literacy. If this decade could be characterised by learning, and acting on that learning, then perhaps one of the most valuable assets we have as we embark on the journey is human experience. The growing wave of interest in blue growth and the blue economy has the potential to carve a new path and not repeat the mistakes of the past. The era of believing in endless economic growth has to be behind us. The ocean is vast and holds a great deal of resources – but, like all natural resources, they are finite. We have the decade to demonstrate how to live in balance.
How has ocean health changed over the past decade?
In short, ocean health has declined – but rather than focus on loss and damage, I prefer to think about the circumstances which will bring us to a thriving, clean healthy ocean of the future. And those stories are all positive. They are stories of strong, intelligent leadership, of innovation and creativity, of collaboration and hope. A healthy ocean will be a product of the kind of world we all want to live in.
The theme for this year’s World Oceans Day is “Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean”. How can individuals make a difference?
There is one ocean – no matter who or where we are – we are all dipping our toes in the same enormous connecting body of water. It’s our ocean and it’s our shared responsibility to look after it. Of course we don’t all hold the same power to make change – so, if what you can do is to get involved in beach cleans or make sure the household products you buy are ocean safe – then do that. If you can campaign for better protection for our ocean, do that. If you can inspire people to hold their government representatives to account, do that. And if you are one of the lucky few in a position of power which means you can take the brave decisions we need to stop ocean damage in its tracks – then please, do that.
Get Involved with Ocean Action
There are many ways to heed this year’s theme and take collective action for the ocean, beginning with World Ocean Day for Schools, an interactive event and free digital resource tool to promote understanding of our rich and complex relationship with the ocean.
UNRIC is also pleased to announce the upcoming Ciné-ONU screening of Joshua Zeman’s powerful documentary ‘The Loneliest Whale’ in the lead-up to the UN Ocean Conference 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. The screening will take place on Friday 24 June at the Cinema São Jorge in Lisbon, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, Lisbon City Hall and Oceano Azul Foundation. Register here for a free ticket to the screening, or follow the event on Facebook for further details.