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World Oceans Day: Importance of Oceans and How They’re Tied Into Climate Change

In World
June 09, 2024

DOTHAN, Ala (WDHN) — Saturday marks World Ocean’s Day, a United Nations international day meant to bring attention to the role oceans play in our lives and on our planet and to coordinate actions to preserve their quality.

World Oceans Day is also meant to raise awareness on how human actions affect the ocean, including overfishing, pollution/waste dumping, and burning fossil fuels.

The oceans cover 70 percent of the planet and provide 50 percent of its oxygen, according to the UN. The agency also says 40 million people will be employed by in ocean-related industries by 2030.

The vast ecosystem is also home to the world’s largest collection of biodiversity and provides food and medicine to almost the entire planet.

But, human activities such as waste dumping, overfishing, and burning fossil fuels are taking a toll. Now, 90 percent of big fish populations are depleted, and 50 percent of coral reefs are destroyed.

Making the issue more dire are the effects of burning fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels leads to a warming atmosphere through the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

The effects are well documented and include warmer temperatures (globally), altered precipitation patterns (more extreme floods in some places, more extreme droughts in others), more wildfires, and wetter tropical cyclones that can lead to more storm surge damage (in tandem with sea level rise).

The oceans are important for storing excess carbon, being the world’s largest carbon sink and regulating our climate. But, a warming planet and changing climate due to the burning of fossil fuels has significant effects on the ocean.

Warmer oceans cause ice caps and glaciers to melt. This is especially significant at the poles. In 2023, a study found record-low Antarctic sea ice is the result of climate change. In the Northern Hemisphere, Arctic sea ice was at the 5th lowest in 45 years in 2023.

When this ice melts, it causes sea level rise. This causes a host of issues, including rising water tables, saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats, saltwater intrusion into aquifers (drinking water sources), and higher storm surge, placing more coastal areas at risk for the effects of damaging tropical cyclones.

Several fish and marine species have already altered their migration paths and have changed their habitats as a result of a warming planet and waters. Warmer waters also lead to marine heat waves, putting stress on aquatic organisms and habitats.

Additionally, more carbon dioxide in the water makes it more acidic. For sensitive organisms such as coral, the results are fatal. Coral bleaching results, killing off the coral reefs and the life that relies on them.

When one player is taken out of an ecosystem, it leads to ecosystem collapse, which can have a butterfly effects of negative outcomes on a global scale relating to the environment, health, and economy.

To combat these issues, the UN proposes different solutions. These include restoring vegetation (such as mangroves) and protecting coral, investing in cleaner-energy sources, reducing carbon emissions in shipping (green shipping), and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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