For most of my life, I have lived less than an hour's drive from an ocean and it gives me comfort to know that I am so close. I can't really imagine not being able to see, smell and hear the ocean whenever I want to. For me the sea shore is a place where I find peace; where I feel most connected to the infinite energy that gives us life.
I feel loved and loving when I see a sunrise or a sunset on the water. I feel connected to those who live on the "other side" of the immense and beautiful sea that connects one continent to another. I feel, indeed, that I could not live without the ocean.
And I am right. Even if I lived hundreds of miles from it, I could not live without the ocean. Neither could you. Literally.
Oceans are integral to human survival.
Maybe that is why so many people love to be near them. Is there something deep in our collective unconscious that knows our survival as a species is intricately connected to the oceans that make up over 70 percent of the earth's surface?
Without being consciously aware that 94 percent of life on earth is aquatic, do we realize in the depths of our being, that we land-dwellers are a small minority and that we are, indeed, dependent on the biodiversity the ocean contains?
When I used to scuba dive in the Caribbean, I was amazed by the diversity and beauty of the underwater life I saw. I never stopped to think about the bio-medical products that have been made possible by the diverse forms of marine plant and animal life.
When I enjoy the majesty of Gloucester's rocky coast, or Cape Cod's sandy beaches, I never once think about how the ocean transfers heat from the equator to the north and south poles, or how it moderates carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. I simply bask in its beauty and relax into the peaceful, contented feeling that being near the ocean always gives me.
I know that millions of people share this love of the ocean. That is why so many people choose ocean-based vacations. Lately, though, I have begun to think that we are drawn to the ocean, not by its beauty, but by our subconscious understanding that it makes life on earth possible.
Has God or the universe created us to have an innate love of the ocean in order to help us understand that we need it? I think the answer is yes.
And, if the answer is yes, then it is important to understand what the ocean does for us. Even more important may be understanding what is happening to the ocean due to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I am not a scientist so my explanation will be simple. I will include references at the end for more thorough understanding.
The ocean plays a vital role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Right now, almost half of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuel is absorbed by the earth's oceans. More carbon dioxide can be absorbed and processed safely in cold water than in warm water.
As the earth's temperature rises, it affects the temperature of the water in the ocean. The warmer the ocean becomes the less able it is to absorb CO2 without harm to marine life, and to the ocean itself.
So, we have a huge problem: as more carbon dioxide is emitted global temperatures increase and the ocean water itself warms and is, therefore, less able to absorb the CO2.
But that is not the only problem the ocean (and we humans who depend on it) is facing. The ocean water is becoming more and more acidic due to the increase in carbon dioxide. Human activities are adding 24 million tons of CO2 to the oceans every day. Research has shown that the acidity has increased almost 30 percent in the last 100 years! This really matters because a balanced pH level in the ocean is crucial to the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Nature gave us a beautiful system of carbon exchange between the earth, the ocean and the atmosphere. We have unwittingly debilitated that system. We have taken something beautiful and life-giving and turned it into a vicious cycle.
I don't blame us for what has happened. Most of us didn't know, or didn't understand. But that is in the PAST. All of the information is available to us now. We have no excuse not to know.
We are so privileged to be the ones who have been given the gift of knowledge. We must not reject this gift. We can not return it because it isn't comfortable. We must accept it with gratitude. We must embrace it. We - you and I - are here NOW.
Martin Luther King, Jr's words from almost 50 years ago state it well : "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is a such thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time."
We can not wait. We must learn how to live differently. We are the leaders the earth has been waiting for. We are the stewards the ocean needs. We are the humans who have been chosen to join together and heal the earth. We can do it. We must do it. Let us begin now.
Remember that what happens next is up to all of us. We are all connected.
“When people are determined they can overcome anything.” (Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 14, 2006)
References and resources
Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.
I Call Myself Earth Girl, novel by Jan Krause Greene
SeaWeb helps mitigate ocean pollution by sharing and supporting safe, sustainable and responsible ways to interact with our marine environment.
SeaWeb's KidSafe Seafood program provides guidance for selecting healthy, sustainable fish for child consumption. KidSafe Seafood informs parents of the dangers of eating mercury- or PCB-laden seafood while providing sustainable, healthy alternatives.
Learn what you can do to live healthy and sustainably while helping the ocean
For more information, you can visit:
- The National Academies 2009 report Oceans and Human Health
- Woods Hole Center for Oceans & Human Health
- Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment
- Pacific Northwest Center for Human Health and Ocean Studies, University of Washington
- Oceans and Human Health Center, University of Miami
- Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine, University of Hawaii, Monoa
- NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative (OHHI)