Gentle ripples and waves of a body of water under white skies; photo via Matt Hardy/Pexels.
Climate Action

Life In The Ocean: Protecting What Sustains Us

Oceans cover just over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface; it’s no exaggeration to state that these expanses of water are vital for our continued survival. The seas on our planet provide food, economic stability and generate most of the oxygen we breathe — when climate change disrupts and threatens oceanic life; it endangers all living things (including us).

Not only is most of our world covered by vast seas, nearly all the water found on Earth is held within them (around 96 percent) — the rest being present in glaciers, ice caps, rivers, lakes, aquifers, soil moisture and water vapour. If we’re serious about sustainability and environmental action, it has to include protecting our oceans from the impacts of destructive climate change.

Although geographically speaking seas and oceans are different – seas are smaller and are usually partially enclosed by land — for the purposes of this article, the two terms will be used interchangeably.

A title graphic for a post available on Transatlantic Notes called, ‘Life in the Ocean: Protecting What Sustains Us’. The background image shows gentle ripples and waves of a body of water under white skies.

Bringing awareness to this and the many other issues our planet currently faces is why I joined the Climate Change Collective; a group of environmentally-minded bloggers who want to share climate action news that motivates and informs — keeping the subject at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Created by Michelle from Eco Boomer Crusader and Jamie of Jamie Ad Stories; each month a different member of the collective takes turns to write a lead/focus post that shares key details, concerns and/or unique perspectives about climate change. Once the post is published, the rest of the group will link to it in a response-style blog on their own sites; discussing any thoughts and ideas about the information/issues raised.

The collective is currently open to any other bloggers who want to join; if you’re interested, get in touch.

Collective Climate Action

The fourth installment and most recent lead/focus post for the collective was written by Caroline from Enviroline Blog; where she thoughtfully examines how climate change impacts animals. Here she clearly lays out how widespread the dangers are, including key information about natural disasters, phenology disruption, sea level/temperature rise, glacial melt and also extinctions — proving just how urgent (and broad) our responses have to be. Make sure you check it out! It was reading about sea level rise and ocean temperature changes on her post that really got me thinking about my own love and deep connection to the sea — and my hopes for its continued survival.

I just think it’s so unfair that animals are forced to adapt, or potentially not survive because of the actions caused by humans. | How Climate Change Impacts Animals – Enviroline Blog

A lone sea turtle swims in a vibrant blue sea; it’s just about to come to the surface.
sea turtle – photo via David Troeger/Unsplash

Why Our Oceans Matter

The world’s waters are teeming with life; vast numbers of animals and plant species existing within rich and diverse habitats that support vital biodiversity — with every sea organism fulfilling a role that keeps ecosystems healthy and functioning. The tiny yet mighty microscopic phytoplankton, for example, is an algae that produces about half of the oxygen we breathe. One type in particular, called Prochlorococcus, is estimated to provide the oxygen for one in every five breaths we take. There’s no way around the fact that oceanic life is essential for our planet.

Even the waves and water of the sea carry out a significant role in maintaining the environment. Ocean currents help to regulate the global climate (keeping it habitable) through its thermodynamic capabilities that absorb heat from the Sun and carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere — including ever increasing amounts of CO2 generated by human activity. Through storing energy in this way, the ocean distributes warmth and moisture throughout the globe; helping to prevent places from getting too hot or too cold.

But much like everything in nature; there’s a delicate balance. If the Earth’s climate continues to be bombarded by dangerous levels of global warming; sea temperatures will continue rising beyond a level that sustains varied oceanic animal and plant populations — organisms can/will begin to suffer and die out.

The Impacts of Rising Ocean Temperatures

Alarmingly, the world’s oceans are now hotter than they have ever been because of human-induced climate change; with temperatures rising every decade since the 1960s. Warmer waters produce extra moisture that accumulates in the atmosphere; triggering weather systems that fuel more intense rainfall, hurricanes and storms — increasing the risk of flooding, infrastructure failure and mass human displacement because of hazardous conditions.

Higher sea levels cause more frequent tidal flooding and worsen storm surge, which not only damages personal property, but threatens human health, emergency response time, city infrastructure, the economy, military readiness, and important habitats. | There’s A Lot At Risk From Sea Level Rise – SeaLevelRise.Org

Rising sea temperatures also trigger melting of glaciers and ice sheets; causing global sea levels to rise — a direct threat to coastal communities. The Quileute Nation of La Push on the northwest Washington coast, for example, are trying to protect their communities from increased flooding and ocean encroachment by moving to higher ground. Rising oceans also submerge, destroy and endanger beaches and other land-based areas that are crucial habitats for other terra firma plants and animals. 

As our seas are now having to absorb more and more carbon dioxide; not only does it cause rising sea temperatures, it’s producing rates of oceanic acidification that goes far beyond expected/manageable levels. Phytoplankton — you know, the ones that help us breathe — are harmed when acidification imbalances pH and calcium carbonate amounts. If they cannot survive or reproduce in sustainable numbers, a ripple effect will be felt throughout all of the species that rely on them. Plankton aren’t merely oxygen producers; they’re also a crucial part of the ocean’s food chain.

Lush green seagrass sways in ocean currents; small fish swim above it.
seagrass – photo via Vpommeyrol/Canva

How To Help Make A Difference

It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, or whether you’ve ever experienced its beauty; here are eight things you can do right now to defend our oceans: 

  • Find ways to reduce your carbon footprint but remain educated about how this expression was manufactured by a public-relations firm for BP (British Petroleum) to try and shift the focus/blame onto consumers and away from the fossil fuel industry giants that are overwhelmingly responsible for driving climate collapse.
  • Make a point of staying informed about those in government/climate leadership positions who are funded by fossil fuel special interest groups — vote them out.
  • Highlight and uphold government representatives and lawmakers who champion policies that prioritize ocean conservation and robust climate action.
  • Utilize social media to raise awareness about the impact climate change has on our seas.
  • Make an effort to only eat sustainably sourced seafood; educate yourself about how you can identify/access it where you live (country-to-country will be different).
  • Be a part of a group that helps take care of beaches and join a seaside clean-up project.
  • Decide to buy and use fewer plastic products and make sure you repurpose/recycle or properly dispose of the ones that you do still get; plastics frequently end up as ocean pollution that can contribute to entanglement deaths of marine animals and ecosystem destruction.

This is under no circumstances an exhaustive post or list, but I hope it has provided some valuable information that inspires you to find out more. Together we can share what we learn and reinforce just how central the sea is to our collective survival.

What other tips have you got to help with ocean conservation? What are you doing to combat climate change?


Further Info:

How the Climate Would Change If the World Warms Over 1.5 Degrees – NPR

42 thoughts on “Life In The Ocean: Protecting What Sustains Us”

  1. My wife and I just visited the Monterey Aquarium and got a backstage look at what they are doing to try and protect a variety of sea species…passionate people who care about saving what we too often take for granted!

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  2. I often feel that the ocean’s importance is underappreciated. I don’t ever remember learning in school that we get oxygen from the ocean, just about trees. I wonder if that education is shifting now. The ocean is so incredibly important and I’m so glad you’ve shared all of this info. The points about temperature regulation are really interesting as I don’t know a lot of science behind things like that.

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  3. People have always underestimated the importance of the ocean, and I was shocked recently when watching a documentary about how much we take it for granted. Using it for its fish but filling it with plastic and not taking care of it. I changed my whole perspective of how we should protect our oceans and how incredible it is that slowly people are learning and it’s not too late to make a difference. Excellent post, very insightful.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this informative post Molly. Supporting organizations, reducing plastic consumption, and finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint have been a priority of mine. I would love to be part of a clean-up project in the future, perhaps whilst travelling as there aren’t any beaches where I’m from. I’m happy to hear that there are always ways to help out, no matter where you may be in the world. Thank you again for sharing!

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    1. Beach clean-up projects are great to do; even if you don’t live near one you can donate to organizations that carry them out as they always need help with supplies, etc. Hopefully more and more people will become a part of this initiative!

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  5. Wow, we had no idea the term carbon footprint came from a marketing firm. While it’s great for everyone to be responsible, it’s sad that the companies that pollute the most are trying to dodge responsibility.

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    1. Yes, the term carbon footprint was made-up by a firm for BP to take the focus/blame for climate change away from them and onto us. We still need to do our bit but it’s always good to remember to hold fossil fuel industries responsible. Thanks for reading!

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  6. Excellent post and I’ve learned so much from it. I didn’t know that the oceans contributed so much to the oxygen levels.
    It is bad that animals have to suffer for what we do, but with ever increase population numbers we are doing it anyway. It’s when one species becomes dominant in an eco system it disrupts it. But at the end of the day the world will get back in balance, the question is then what species can adapt and will survive. We’re not destroying the world, we are just making it less habitable for us and while doing so taking other species with us.

    I agree that we can do a lot about these issuess and need to take the actions that we can do. I believe that we can make a difference as individuals, but we need a bigger and more consistent effort from everyone. One step could be to stop over consuming and live a little more close to our core needs.

    Thank you for the post.

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    1. It surprised me too that the so much of our oxygen comes from the ocean; I think this needs to be more widely known as I am sure realizing this will push some more people towards action. I hope that people power compels our leaders and government officials to do more and rid themselves of fossil fuel industry influence. Thank you so much for reading!

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  7. The world’s oceans play an important role in our weather patterns, even without accounting for the hotter seas. They have under sea currents that move hot and cold water around our planet. People need to focus on how it’s all connected, and as such, there’s knock on effects for everything we do

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    1. Exactly right; oceans help regulate global climates and keep Earth habitable by distributing warmth and moisture and hot/cold waters around the globe — literally a vital function. It astounds me that the health of our seas and oceans are so easily disregarded. Thanks for reading!

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  8. I love the posts you and the Climate Change Collective are doing because they bring awareness to topics that need to be discussed more. I do feel like many people don’t realize how important the oceans are, and you included a great list of ways to help make a difference.

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  9. Marine life ecosystem plays a huge role in the survival of humanity. Molly, your post is very educational. Practical ways to prevent global warming and promote earth preservation is what educators should be teaching in middle and high schools across the world. This is one of the best ways to preserve the earth. Knowledge is power to change.

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  10. Such an insightful post! I love all the tips you shared here about helping to make a difference. I also try to participate in beach clean ups whenever an opportunity presents itself. It’s the small steps that make a big difference. Thank you for sharing!

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  11. This was a very interesting read and I feel I’ve learned a lot. I’ll keep looking out for similar posts so I can find more ways to take action! Thanks for sharing this and writing about such an important topic

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  12. As someone who lives very near the Pacific Ocean and in a province with thousands of fresh water lakes, I frequently hear about the negative impact we are having on our waters. Yet people are still denying that climate change is real. We all need to do our part in minimizing our carbon footprint. Thanks for writing such an impactful post.

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  13. This is such an informative post, thank you for sharing. I think this topic as a whole can be INCREDIBLY overwhelming. We all know about climate change and we all know the oceans are affected but as an individual, thinking about what we can do when the statistics are so dire, it’s no wonder people struggle doing anything. I think it’s important that we can all focus on one aspect and start there.

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    1. It’s definitely true that the enormity of something can cause us to not know where to start to help. Starting with one thing is an excellent way to make a difference; we can’t do everything but when we decide on soemthing, we can be a positive change. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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