U.S. National Park Service (USNPS)
The dazzling vibrancy of coral reefs, the fleeting streaks of color as shorebirds alight, flying up and above the waves, the sight of young sea turtles flecked with granules of sand, clambering for open ocean, the bioluminescence of extraordinary organisms churning in deep sea; When we catch glimpses of the myriad life dotting the ocean’s blue expanse, we are often struck by its beauty. But marine life is not only vibrant; it is vital.
So much as the visible compels us, it is the invisible that sustains us. Marine microbes, which drive carbon sequestration in the oceans, comprise more than 98% of ocean biomass. Floating in delicate glass walls of Silica, diatoms, a type of phytoplankton, produce one fifth of the air we breathe. Collectively, phytoplankton are responsible for every other breath we take. These tiny organisms also form the basis of marine foods webs that support Earth’s largest animal, the blue whale.
U.S. National Park Service (USNPS)
Larger species also support marine ecosystems. Green sea turtles, for example, foster healthy seagrass meadows and coral reefs, critical habitats for commercial fish species that billions depend upon for their livelihoods or food security. Whales act as ecosystem engineers, recycling nutrients and increasing ocean productivity. As top predators, sharks are good indicators of ocean health and keep marine food webs in balance. These are just a few examples of the roles marine species play on the greater stage of life.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Federal protection of endangered species has allowed some marine life to come back from dramatic declines: 77% of marine mammals and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act are recovering in population size. In 2016, humpback whales had recovered so much that most populations were taken off the endangered species list. Marine mammals not listed as endangered are still protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Despite recovery of some species, many forms of life, such as shore birds, are still facing rapid decline. A confluence of climatic threats to the ocean pushes marine life to a precarious existence. The ocean is 30% more acidic than it was before industrialization. As the ocean absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, it forms carbonic acid which dissolves calcium carbonate structures of corals, mussels, clams, oysters, and starfish. The ocean is not only acidifying but also gasping for air: over the past 50 years, the volume of ocean with no oxygen has quadrupled. Oxygen is consumed by algal blooms spurred by warming temperatures and nutrient overload from sewage and agricultural run-off spilling from land into our seas.
We come from life in the ocean — the chemistry of our bodies is testament to that past. As Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us,
“Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal — each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water.”
The makeup of our atoms is not unlike that of the sea. Without ever splashing our feet into its salty waters, we all connect to the ocean in this way.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Some may know the ocean personally, some may know it through photos, art, or the work of marine scientists such as Rachel Carson, whose book Under the Sea-Wind transforms an imagination of ocean life into a vivid reality. The RCC seeks to continue to bring the ocean to life, highlighting our interconnectedness with the sea and our need to protect it.
Latest News About
Why there is hope that the world’s coral reefs can be saved
For most of us, the colourful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves – we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy, therefore, not to notice the perilous state they’re in: we’ve lost 50% of coral reefs in the past 20 years; more than 90% are expected to die by 2050 according to a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California earlier this year. As the oceans heat further and turn more acidic, owing to rising carbon dioxide emissions, coral reefs are tipped to become the world’s first ecosystems to become extinct because of us. Read more at The Guardian
Cargo Vessels Are Killing More Whales — A New Effort Aims to Save Them
Collisions between whales and shipping vessels are especially prevalent in areas where whale habitat overlaps with busy port traffic, such as the Santa Barbara Channel. This 70-mile stretch of water between mainland California and the Northern Channel Islands is a thoroughfare for thousands of cargo ships going to and from the busy ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. It’s also a hotspot for endangered and threatened whales.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has instituted voluntary slow-speed zones, but whale-ship strikes have still been on the rise for the past few years. Read more at EcoWatch
Rising water temperatures pose risks to Arctic char: new research
“When these fish are too hot, they can get lethargic, slow down, and possibly turn back during their migration”
Arctic char, the most northerly freshwater fish on the planet, may struggle to survive as the polar climate warms, five years of research in western Nunavut suggests.
Even shorter-term exposure to higher water temperatures could prove deadly to Arctic char, said Matt Gilbert in his PhD thesis, called “Thermal limits to the cardiorespiratory performance of Arctic char (salvelinus alpinus) in a rapidly warming North.” Read more at Nunatsiaq
Oregon seabird facing dual threats as forests burn and oceans warm, study says
The marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird related to the puffin and common murre, is facing a new risk to its habitat: warming ocean waters and a lack of prey.
The bird has long faced threats from shrinking habitat — it requires old-growth forests to build nests and reproduce — and it was granted threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in the early 1990s. Read more at The Oregonian
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