Our connections to this ocean planet are not limited to our physical connection to the seas through recreational activities like diving or snorkeling, or economic and exploitative activities such as aquatic harvesting.
Our connections to the sea touch on vital biological, spiritual, and cultural aspects of our humanity. Celebrating our holistic connections to the world’s oceans may help us understand, and improve, our interactions with the world’s marine environment, saving it while there is still time.
Why does the ocean matter?
We live on an ocean planet. The surface of the Earth is more than 70% water. Early life first evolved in the primeval oceans of our early world some 3.5 billion years ago, and it was just over another billion years before life forms began appearing on land.
The oceans continue to ensure that life persists on this planet. Just over 70% of all the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, and the fish we take from our seas provide essential protein for billions of people. Ocean currents regulate our climate, transporting heat from the equator to the polar regions.
But all of this is changing. We have now lost more than 60% of all the Earth’s wildlife, and have increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to unprecedented levels. We have destroyed ecosystems that regulate the balance of our atmosphere, and the oceans have been gradually absorbing this excess carbon dioxide, leading to seas that have warmed alarmingly and become more acidic – creating conditions that are making it difficult for coral reefs (the “rainforests of the sea”) to survive.
As the polar ice sheets melt at alarming rates, ocean currents are changing, and with them, our climate becomes less stable and weather becomes more extreme.
We have placed extraordinary stress on our fisheries, with fish stocks predicted to collapse by 2048. Plastic will soon outweigh fish in the oceans.
The crisis facing our ocean world is very real. And yet, unfortunately, invisible to most people.
World Oceans Day
Though it was first proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it wasn’t until December 5th, 2008, that United Nations general assembly declared June 8th as World Oceans Day. The underlying goal of World Oceans Day is to engage the global public and encourage awareness while celebrating the oceans through our personal and communal connections to the sea.
This year’s theme of World Ocean Day is “Gender and the Ocean”. Before delving into how gender interacts with the oceans, it’s important to first unpack the idea of gender. Sex and gender are often confused for one another, but the most important distinction to note is that sex actually refers to anatomical and chromosomal differences between male, female, and intersex individuals. Gender, however, is much more complex because it is a social construction. Gender refers to the social and cultural differences a society assigns to individuals based on a perceived norm. More information about the distinction between sex and gender can be found here.
The focus this year, according to United Nations, was chosen because “we strive to build greater ocean and gender literacy, and to discover possible ways to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities such as marine scientific research, fisheries, labor at sea, migration by sea and human trafficking, as well as policy-making and management”.
How is Coral Restoration Foundation™ Celebrating?
At CRF™, we see World Oceans Day as a way to celebrate the world’s beautiful oceans but also as an opportunity to spread awareness about one of the oceans’ most rapidly declining ecosystems – coral reefs. Coral reefs only account for 0.2% of the ocean floor but support 25% of the oceans’ marine animals.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Globally, we have lost 50% of the world’s coral reefs within the last 30 years and all shallow coral reefs could become extinct within the next 80.
The Florida Reef Tract (the focus of our work at Coral Restoration Foundation™) is the third largest barrier reef in the world. Ranging 360 miles from north of Miami to South of Key West, it is the only barrier reef in the United States. In the last 40 years, the Florida Reef Tract has lost 97% of the once dominant, reef-building coral species: elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals.
We know that large scale massive action is required to save the world’s coral reefs. This is why CRF™ has created technologies to help restore these once bountiful ecosystems. We are growing and then returning critically endangered corals to their natural habitats.
With a focus on genetic diversity, we have a total of 11 species of coral with 322 genotypes in our seven, self-sufficient off shore coral nurseries. Our corals are grown on Coral Trees – a technology that we developed and which is being used by other groups around the world.
Each Coral Tree can hold up to 60 corals at a time and they allow our coral to grow at least twice as fast than they would when attached to the substrate. Our Tavernier nursery contains over 500 Coral Trees and covers over 1.5 acres of seafloor. It can produce over 22,000 harvestable corals per year!
Once harvested, our corals are outplanted onto the neighboring reefs where they will continue to grow and often, fuse together into larger coral colonies. Within two years of outplanting, some of our corals are even spawning – an excellent sign that they are thriving.
This World Oceans Day, we are hosting our 5th Annual Coralpalooza™! Hundreds of divers and snorkelers throughout the Florida Keys and the Caribbean will be helping outplant corals onto nearby reefs. This year, in Key Largo Captain Coral will also be hosting an educational Treasure Hunt for the whole family.
How can I celebrate World Oceans Day?
The best way to celebrate World Oceans Day is to find the changes that resonate with you, and make a commitment to them.
There are all kinds of ways that you can be a better ocean steward:
1. Seek sustainable seafood
2. Consider a plastic-free lifestyle
3. Choose sustainable souvenirs
4. Use only reef-safe sunscreens
5. Rethink your meat consumption and food waste
6. Support ocean-friendly legislation
7. Spread coral reef awareness
8. Stay informed
If you take away anything from World Oceans Day, let it be this: Our global environments will continue to decline unless direct action is taken now. It is not too late for you to make a difference. There is still so much worth saving, and, if we work together, there is still hope for our precious natural world.
About the Author
Marissa Neitzke hails from Wisconsin and recently graduated from Northland College with a BS in Biology and a minor in Environmental Studies. During her undergraduate career, she studied marine conservation and contributed research at CIEE Bonaire and Prescott College's Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. Always mystified by the natural world and raised with equitable conservation at the forefront, she rapidly fell in love with aquatic ecosystems at a young age. Her infatuation with the amphibious world pushed her to procure her American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) and PADI Divemaster certifications. Particularly passionate about long-term sustainability, interdisciplinary collaboration, and democratic transparency, she champions for an inclusive and thoughtful balance between anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic ecosystems. Marissa has directed at two non-profit organizations and has held research roles at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While at CRF™, she looks forward to cultivating holistic conservation practices through accessible science education and community conversation with great optimism for the future.