I take my World Oceans Day marinated in oil

Or, at least, that’s the way it seems this year for the new U.N.-declared holiday, in light of the crude catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the salty seas off of Louisiana could definitely use some lovin’, the rest of the oceans aren’t faring much better. The following issues wouldn’t mind it at all if you started throwing out some life preservers:

  • Life in plastic, it’s gone gastric: That is, for this albatross chick and other sea animals that mistake tiny bits of discarded plastic in the water for food. Unfortunately, some of that little plastic debris adds up to a huge, floating Pacific garbage patch about twice the size of Texas. And there’s another one in the North Atlantic too.

    Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

  • Bleach out and touch someone: One of the first sure signs of climate change was warming ocean temperatures which started bleaching coral reefs. Which means they — and many of the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain — die.

    Bleached staghorn coral ... the water ain't fine here. Photo: Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons

  • On acid: A neat trick of what’s known as the “carbon cycle” is that the oceans absorb about 25% of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by, for example, burning fossil fuels. However, when it dissolves into sea water, a weak acid known as “carbonic acid” forms, which disintegrates the shells of sea life. This less-than-neat phenomenon is known as ocean acidification. Get more info from Sigourney Weaver and the Natural Resources Defense Council:
  • Go fish: Actually, don’t. My good-natured environmental policy professor, Dr. Bill Evans used to work with the International Whaling Commission, and I believe, also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And one thing I learned from his class was that there are now waaaay too many boats — rather than fish — in the sea. According to scientists, if fishing continues at the same rate, most of the world’s seafood stocks will collapse by 2048. (Source: Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Worm et al. Science 2006;314:787–90)
  • Bluefin tuna is blue to the albacore over its threatened status. Photo: bzibble via Flickr Creative Commons

Now, for some good news: The collapse of the world’s fisheries can be avoided. The same doomsaying scientist published a more optimistic outlook last year, but it has lots of big ifs, including the effects of fisheries management, climate change, and ocean acidification. So don’t think you’re off the hook quite yet! (Source: Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Worm et al. Science 31 July 2009: 578-585)

And here’s a little Gristy advice for how to help the oceans by eating more kindly: How to choose sustainable seafood. Or, like me (even in pre-vegetarian days), you could skip the seafood altogether. Happy World Oceans Day!

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