THE IMPORTANCE OF MARINE LIFE AND WHY WE SHOULD BE PROTECTING IT

We love going to the beach - relaxing on the sand, swimming in the ocean, and wearing our Koraru swimsuits. But the ocean is so much more than just our recreational playground. 70% of our planet is ocean and 80% of all life on earth resides within it. On top of its sheer enormity, the ocean is also a source of food, drives economic prosperity, and regulates oxygen and carbon levels for the planet.

Unfortunately, we have put our oceans under a lot of strain. Most have heard of the massive deposits of plastic waste drifting around the Pacific ocean and the coral reefs that are slowly dying. It has become clear that we must make a drastic change to how we treat our planet’s natural resources. This is especially true for the ocean given its impact on our lives. Continued degradation of conditions could have devastating effects on wildlife populations, the global economy, and humanity.

OCEAN THREATS

Human activity has threatened and continues to threaten the cleanliness, health, and well-being of the ocean. Through things like pollution, overfishing, and the effects of climate change, we have put an enormous strain on our aquatic ecosystems. Our impact is affecting 3 main areas:

CLIMATE

The link between the ocean and climate change is perhaps the least salient and hardest to measure impact. This is because the ocean works within the broader system of homeostasis for the planet. It works to trap carbon and release oxygen into the atmosphere - which is why it is often called the lungs of the planet. The ocean has already absorbed 90% of the excess heat generated from climate change and 25% of all carbon emissions - mitigating the effects of climate change while also affecting the intricate balance of life below the surface.

When the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a chemical reaction occurs which generates carbonic acid and then hydrogen ions. With the increase of carbon emissions, there has also been an increase in carbon dioxide being absorbed and therefore an increase in carbonic acid and hydrogen ions. In the past 200 years, the pH of surface ocean water has fallen by 0.1 pH units. This may not sound like a lot, but that decrease is actually an increase in acidity of 30%. For certain creatures, particularly those with hard shells made of calcium, this can be devastating.

MARINE WILDLIFE

90% of habitable space on earth resides within our oceans where there are an estimated 250,000 known species. It is also estimated that we have only discovered one third of the marine wildlife that exists. Unfortunately, we may never get the chance to discover some new species before they are extinct. At our current rate, UNESCO predicts that more than 50 percent of the world’s marine species may face extinction by 2100.

As mentioned above, one effect of climate change on the ocean is increased acidification. For hard-shelled critters in our ocean, this poses a large threat. Ocean acidification results in less carbon available to these animals, and they require carbon to grow their shells. If acidity increases too much, shells can even begin to dissolve.

Another threat to marine life is overfishing. As with any limited resource, there is always a risk of over-extraction. With fishing, it is particularly hard to monitor and enforce fishing levels when there are vast areas of the ocean that are not within a specific country’s jurisdiction. With increasing demand because of rising populations and the fact that other people are also fishing from the same supply, overfishing has become a prevalent problem. This can lead to lower populations of certain fish, lowering the supply of available food as well as having a ripple effect within marine food-chains

ECONOMIC

Around 61% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the ocean and surrounding coastal areas. These industries include but are not limited to fishing and tourism. Overall, around 15% of the protein we eat globally is derived from the ocean. In some countries, that number is closer to 50%. Falling wildlife numbers could also lead to further food insecurity, especially as the human population continues to grow.

As we continue to deteriorate the health of the ocean, we are also putting our global economy at higher risk. Fishing is a $362 billion global industry that is continuing to grow; if fish populations continue to decline, the entire industry could collapse. Similarly, coastal tourism is also a huge industry. The ocean-related tourism industry grows an estimated US $134 billion every year, but coral bleaching is already costing the industry $12 billion annually. 

LIFE BELOW WATER: THE SUSTAINABILITY FOCUS OF THE UNITED NATIONS

There is a global push to improve the health of the world’s oceans. The United Nations has made ocean health a priority in their sustainability goals. In 2015, the UN created the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a list of 17 transformative goals to address climate change. Goal number 14 - titled Life Below Water - includes specific ocean targets such as reducing pollution, conserving marine and coastal habitats, and investing in new green technologies.

In 2022, the governments of Kenya and Portugal hosted the UN Ocean Conference to address these problems and come up with shared solutions. These solutions included new technologies that will help address the threats of acidification, overfishing, pollution, overfishing, and the loss of marine habitats.

HOW TO HELP OUR OCEANS

To fully address the strains we are placing on our planet and oceans in particular, systemic and structural change will need to occur. In the meantime, there are still actions you can take as an individual to minimize your direct impact and foster a healthier environment for everyone.

DON’T LITTER WHEN YOU GO TO THE BEACH

It may seem so simple, but one of the easiest ways to respect the sea is to clean up after yourself when you go to the beach. Follow a similar rule as hikers who venture to the mountains - leave no trace. Most beaches are not regulated the same way as hiking trails are; you’re free to build sandcastles, collect seashells, and swim as much as you want. Just make sure you don’t leave any of your trash behind when you pack up and leave for the day!

USE NON-TOXIC SUNSCREEN

Not every sunscreen is created equal. Some are better for your skin than others, and some are better for marine life than others. Some chemicals found in sunscreen can be toxic to coral reef habitats. As a general rule, the safest sunscreens to use are ones that use minerals to filter UV rays. While some sunscreens may be labeled “reef-friendly,” the term is not regulated so it is important to read the ingredients yourself and avoid products with the following active ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • microplastics or exfoliating beads

To learn more about reef safe sunscreens, you can visit  savethereef.org.

wearing the Hedy blue and black bikini set by Koraru sustainable swim

VOLUNTEER OR DONATE

There are many opportunities for you to get involved with caring for the ocean. If you live near the coast, you can find local organizations to volunteer with that help make a positive impact in your area. There are also national organizations focused on conservation, clean-up, and protection. Dedicating a little time or a little money or buying from brands that do that for you can go a long way.

.   .   .   .   .   .

The ocean is huge and may appear to be boundless and indestructible, but it is in fact made of fragile ecosystems. As humans continue to generate carbon emissions, extract marine resources, and generate waste that ends up in the ocean, those ecosystems have begun to break down. We can already see the effects in the coral reefs that are slowly dying, species that are going extinct, and the plastic waste that is floating around as flotsam. 

However, as with all environmental issues, it is important to remain positive. As we learn more about the effects we have on our surroundings, we have also begun to mitigate them. Important work is being done by governments across the world, the United Nations, and individual organizations. You can also make decisions within your daily life to minimize your impact on marine life. Educating yourself and recognizing that the decisions you make do impact your surroundings is the first step. 

Image by Pagie Page

Written by Neesha Nasnyat - Sustainability Writer for Koraru
Neesha Basnyat is a an experienced sustainability writer and researcher specialising in biology, sustainability, CSR, and ESG analysis and reporting. With an educational background in Biology and Environmental Science and over 6 years of experience in the sustainability field, Neesha loves everything green, from shoveling compost to calculating emissions or researching the best new standards in the sustainability space.

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