We’re still making new discoveries [about oceans] every day.
Deep Thinking: Ocean Solutions to Climate Change
Our planet can sustain life because of one universally unique feature: the ocean. It produces half the oxygen we breathe, nourishes our bodies with food and our minds with inspiration, and shapes our weather and climate. But not only are marine ecosystems under attack, they’re woefully underexplored and poorly understood. This session highlights the creative and passionate leaders seeking to better understand the role the ocean and its undiscovered inhabitants play in the global carbon cycle. By creating movements, leveraging youth, and supporting innovation and technology, today’s ocean champions have the potential to restore health to the enigmatic force that covers two-thirds of our planet.
- 2019 Festival
Oceans are massive on a scale that’s sometimes hard to comprehend—they cover about 70% of the earth’s surface. So why are climate change’s effects on oceans never front-page news? The short answer, according to Daniela Fernandez of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, is that ocean science exists out of sight and out of mind.
Plus, says Janis Searles Jones of the Ocean Conservancy, there’s a lot we don’t know about oceans yet. Ocean science is burgeoning, but it was largely ignored until recently. Our forests, deserts, and jungles have been meticulously studied for centuries, and Searles Jones says it’s time to start seriously investing in ocean science as well.
By the numbers
Although there’s a lot we don’t know about oceans, what do we know is startling. Sea level and temperature rise have entered climate change vernacular, but the corollary effects escape all but impassioned ocean advocates. Take ocean acidification, a little known yet potentially disastrous effect of high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, succinctly explained by Janis Searles Jones:
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity
Ross Andersen: Give us a basic understanding of ocean acidification and the dangers of it.
Janis Searles Jones: The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, and when that happens there’s a simple chemical reaction and it makes ocean waters more acidic. It makes it more difficult for animals that need to build shells to get the calcium and actually build those shells. That has significant impacts because it takes more energy to grow, to survive, and reproduce. A lot of those animals are at the base of the food chain, and so if you have a sea snail, for example, lots and lots of things eat those sea snails. And if they cannot reproduce, if their shells are eroding, you have these big food chain impacts going all the way up to larger species. One of the very significant concerns of ocean acidification is that you will have these cascading effects up the food chain.
These sorts of climate change side effects are relatively new even to scientists, which makes educating the public about these issues extremely difficult.
One ocean-related issue that’s broken through the noise is plastic waste. Plastic waste is flowing into oceans in record amounts, and is having decimating impacts on marine life. And while Daniela Fernandez says plastic waste in oceans isn’t directly a climate change issue, it does wake people up to how their personal choices affect oceans.
Did you know?
It’s also important to remember, says Janis Searles Jones, that plastics are a petrochemical product. While plastic production makes up a small percentage of the world’s fossil fuel use, Searle Jones explains that petrochemical companies are starting to focus more on plastics production as the future of fossil fuel vehicles becomes more uncertain.