“We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on them. Because they do.”
Sylvia Earl calls herself the ambassador of the fish. A few weeks ago I listened to a Ted talk she gave for receiving the Ted price (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43DuLcBFxoY). She talked about this most fragile ecosystem we should protect with everything we have. I felt like she has a love affair with the seas of our planet. Her incredible enthusiasm, her wise and clear words moved me.
Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist and also the first woman to become chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Time magazine named her the first Hero of the Planet. She wrote books and talks with a voice you have to listen to. She still holds a record walking on the sea bed, deeper than anyone before. She is “Her Deepness”. I admire her work and her passion. She sounds so wise and encouraging but focuses on the facts: Our oceans are endangered by our actions and we have to do something about it.
People have always felt the spell of the oceans. Nowadays, 40% of the world population live in coastal areas.
With increasing population, the resulting climate change causes a sea level rise. The livelihood of whole societies is threatened. We have to cut our carbon emissions. Thereby, we counteract global warming, the sea level rise, the acidification of the oceans and the extinction of marine species.
Yesterday, we watched another documentary, this time about salmons. On their journey, salmons bring nutrients from the sea into the smallest rivers in the middle of continents. We build dams everywhere. Fish cannot complete their journey anymore. We try to fix the problem with hatcheries. You cannot fix the system if you bring up fish artificially. We cause drastic changes in our freshwater ecosystems. We damage our life-support system earth. If you fuck with nature, nature fucks back.
After the film we discussed why people haven’t thought about their changes earlier on. My friend answered: “They took it for granted, just as we take our water for granted right now.” I was sipping on my cup of tea. Stared into the cup. She is right. We don’t think long-term. Our economies even less. Short-term benefits. Maximal profit. That’s the world we live in.
Our professor told us that in the time of abundance of salmons they were fed to pigs. Fish is high in protein and fat – excellent nutrition for other animals… Today, 90% of the big fish we like to catch in the oceans are gone. Only 10% of the tuna is left. Take the average pig or chicken you like to eat. It doesn’t get very old. A few months? Maybe one year? Then you put it on your plate. An average tuna has to grow for 10-14 years to mature. We like to catch these. With today’s fishing strategies the tuna we fish get younger and younger. There are no old ones left.
Tuna are very large carnivores. They have eaten a lot of fish in their lives. Pigs eat concentrated feed. They didn’t munch on thousands of fish before you bought them packaged in little pieces. Sylvia Earle points out: “Fish are much more valuable alive than dead.” Which is about true with everything on this planet concerning the environment.
Let’s talk about how we fish. It’s cruel. It’s dreadful. The currently used fishing techniques are designed to having by-catch. If you catch a large fish with today’s technique, there are 100 other fish or marine animals on the fishing rod. Imagine having all of them on your plate! We take the fins of sharks who are still alive and throw the animals back into the ocean. That is what we do to our oceans. 50% of the coral reefs are gone. Destroyed by humans. We are taking and taking and taking. We are never considering the consequences, the scales of our actions.
We are also putting stuff back into the ocean. The entanglement of marine animals in plastics has increased by 40% in the last decade. “Reports revealed that all known species of sea turtles, about half of all species of marine mammals, and one-fifth of all species of sea birds were affected by entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.” The study was done on 663 species. (https://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/cbd-ts-67-en.pdf)
Last semester we had a module called Sustainable Waste Management. From lesson one our lecturer told us: First priority is the reduction of waste. Next time you go grocery shopping, have a close look at the packaging. You have a choice.
Separate your waste. Production and industry have to be changed but we have to initiate it. Bring your own cup. Bring your own bag. Bring your own bottle.
We are not only polluting the water by plastics. We drill deep wholes in the ground. We rip the sea bed apart. We let oil spill for weeks, months. We dig for minerals. We put hazardous waste into the oceans. We get rid of our atomic waste. Oceans are our dumping ground. Small fish eat those lovely little substances. They are eaten by bigger fish and even bigger. Toxics accumulate. Until we have them on our plates. You do not only poison the environment with your waste. You poison yourself by eating your pollution.
Life started in the oceans. They contain 97% of the earth’s water. They drive a huge water cycle providing us with precipitation. They keep the earth cool. Water has an incredible heat capacity and carbon storage capacity. Oceans deal with our high emissions. I don’t know how long they will be able to do so. CO2 turns into carbonic acid. This damages and kills corals. It messes with fragile ecosystems. Oceans drive our climate, bring us warm water in the winter through the Gulf Stream. The system is on the brink to fall apart. It will take us with it.
Seas are complex, diverse and sensitive ecosystems. We need to take better care of them. We need to protect them. To also protect ourselves. As W. H. Auden said:
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
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