World Oceans Day | What ails our oceans, and how to protect them

Celebrated on June 8, World Oceans Day is a way to highlight what ails our oceans and what can be done to protect them

June 08, 2023 06:30 pm | Updated 08:08 pm IST

A boy jumps into the Indian Ocean waters to join other revellers in Hamarweyne district of Mogadishu, Somalia on May 11, 2023.

A boy jumps into the Indian Ocean waters to join other revellers in Hamarweyne district of Mogadishu, Somalia on May 11, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The oceans of the world generate at least half of the planet’s oxygen, supports the majority of the planet’s biodiversity, and provide the majority of the world’s protein needs for more than a billion people. Not to mention, the ocean is vital to our economy, with 40 million people expected to be employed by sectors related to the ocean by 2030.

Celebrated on June 8, World Oceans Day is a way to highlight what ails our oceans and what can be done to protect them. This year’s theme is “Planet Ocean: tides are changing” where the U.N. is joining forces with decision-makers, indigenous leaders, scientists, private sector executives, civil society, celebrities, and youth activist to put the ocean first.

Oceans not only cover two-thirds of our planet but also weave an intricate web all around the world. Be it trade, international treaties, changing weather patterns or to sate the scientific curiosity of what lies beneath the waves, the oceans are vital for human survival. Take a look at the important stories on oceans and its impacts.

Scientists recorded extremely warm oceans in 2022

The world’s oceans recorded extreme heating in 2022 on account of anthropological activities like greenhouse gas emissions, for the fourth year in a row. A study published in the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences analysed factors that drive heating trends in the world’s oceans. It found that spatial maps of ocean heating show significant warming in most ocean areas. Atlantic and southern oceans are heating at a faster rate than other ocean basins. The rise in ocean temperatures is a result of the earth’s energy imbalance, primarily associated with an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. These gases trap heat in a blanket around the earth, not allowing it to escape, thus raising the temperature of the earth’s surface and leading to global warming.

In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, coastal life piggybacks on plastic trash

A new study published in April has found that several coastal species are living and reproducing on plastic ‘rafts’ in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG). Described as one of the most heavily plastic-polluted ocean gyres on the globe, it carries numerous debris as part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Scientists say that the debris from man-made objects has made “permanent anthropogenic rafts since the 1950s” which has given rise to a new kind of coastal community for ocean life. They’ve named it the neopelagic community. This new-found community is not misplaced but lives on plastic items in the garbage patch, including reproducing there.

According to the study, at least, 98% of the debris items, collected from the eastern part of NPSG, had invertebrate organisms. They also found that pelagic species (i.e. of the open ocean) were present on 94.3% of them and coastal species, on 70.5%. According to the study, almost all species were of Northwest Pacific origin, including Japan.

India’s apex ocean technology institute suits up for deepest dive yet

India’s indigenous submersible, MATSYA-6000, will plunge into the bowels of the Indian Ocean at a depth of 6,000 metres. This will be the deepest dive yet by Indians into the ocean. Slated for late 2024 or in 2025 – if the Samudrayaan Mission is to be successful, it would make India only one among six countries to have piloted a crewed under-sea expedition beyond 5,000 metres.

Much like the early days of India’s space programme, which prioritised public utility over Cold War spurred Sputnik-Apollo Space Races, India’s motivations to dive beneath the blue waves are guided by pragmatism – explore the potential of the seabed for precious metals and scoping marine biodiversity. India’s energy needs and increasing competition to harness ocean resources are the key thrust for the Samudrayaan mission, the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology said.

A man from Kerala is determined to salvage sinking shores

Known locally as "Mangrove Man," T. P. Murukesan has turned to planting thousands of mangrove trees along the shores of Vypin, an island off the coast of Kerala, to counter the impacts of rising waters on his home. Sea level rise and severe tidal floods have forced many families in Murukesan’s neighbourhood to relocate to higher grounds over the years. But the retired fisherman has almost single-handedly been buffering the impacts of the rising waters on his home and in his community.

Tidal flooding occurs when sea level rise combines with local factors to push water levels above normal levels. According to the World Meteorological Organization, global mean sea level rose by 4.5 millimetres per year between 2013 and 2022.

Nations secure U.N. global high seas biodiversity pact

On the international front, a U.N. treaty to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of ocean biodiversity was signed by more than 100 countries in March. The treaty is seen as a crucial component in global efforts to bring 30% of the world's land and sea under protection by the end of the decade, a target known as "30 by 30" agreed in Montreal in December, 2022.

As very little of the high seas is subject to any protection, a number of issues such as pollution, acidification and overfishing pose a growing threat. According to Greenpeace, 11 million square km (4.2 million square miles) of the ocean needs to be put under protection every year until 2030 to meet the target.

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