“On World Oceans Day people around the planet celebrate and honor the body of water which links us all, for what it provides humans and what it represents.” — WorldOceansDay.org All life started in the salty seas. There is so much to be learned from what lives there today. The oceans provide 99 percent of the earth’s living space – the largest space in our universe known to be inhabited by living organisms. Humans have explored less than 10 percent of this space. Indeed, the deepest parts of the oceans are the last great uncharted earth-based frontiers. In addition to holding so many fascinating mysteries, the oceans help regulate the climate. They absorb heat and carbon dioxide, keeping global temperatures relatively stable. In fact, ten meters (33 feet) of ocean depth has the same mass as the whole atmosphere; 2.5 meters (8 feet) holds as much heat as the whole atmosphere; and 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) has as much water as the whole atmosphere. But, just like earth’s terrestrial habitats, the oceans are in peril. Oil spills, over-fishing, plastic and noise pollution, poaching, and global climate change are all threatening the health of ocean ecosystems around the world. Let’s honor World Oceans Day (June 8, 2013) by exploring the world’s oceans through some amazing animal facts, scintillating science, shocking stories of pollution and messages of conservation with the help of the infographics below.
Faster than a Speeding Shark that Can Fly
The oceans cover most of our fair planet and in their murky depths live many extraordinary creatures. The blue whale, the largest animal to have ever lived, is alive today, swimming serenely through the world’s seas. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, measuring 1,243 miles, is the largest living structure on earth. It can be seen from the Moon. The infographics below explore the lightning speed and incredible leaping abilities of some of the ocean’s most feared and revered creatures: the sharks.
Endangered and Threatened Marine Animals
Less than one half of one percent of marine habitats are protected, compared with 11.5 percent of global land habitats. As a result, many marine species are threatened or endangered, and many critical conservation areas are under scrutiny by both private and governmental organizations. Hong Kong’s coast, for example, is home to a large number of rare or endangered animals, as illustrated by the first infographic below. New Zealand is also home to several imperiled marine species, including the critically endangered, slow breeding Maui’s Dolphin: the smallest and rarest marine dolphin on earth. The second, interactive infographic below explores the threats facing this unique species, and the country’s options for protecting the remaining population.
The Cost of Polluting the Oceans
Pollution is a problem worldwide. As human beings consume more year after year, consumer waste clogs landfills, litters the ground, and saturates the world’s oceans. Some of the most common and troublesome pollutants: cigarette butts and filters, food wrappers, caps or lids, and plastic bags. The infographic below compiles data on the debris collected by volunteers on just one day each year over the course of 25 years.
Plastics are particularly problematic: they gather in large, circulating gyres, floating islands of waste. Some of these gyres are enormous. For example, the North Pacific gyre is home to over a million individual pieces of plastic.
But not all pollution is material. Sound pollution is one of the ocean’s primary threats, since so many umbrella species (whales) use sonar to communicate across large distances. Umbrella species are critical to the health of large-scale ecosystems. Loud underwater noise prevents whales from communicating with each other, finding food or mates, and navigating the complex migration paths they’ve used for millions of years. Compounded by centuries of whaling, sound pollution is the biggest threat facing whale species worldwide today.
Over-fishing: Farming Nemo
Over-fishing is another great threat to the world’s oceans, and to the world’s people. More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. In 20 years, this number could double to 7 billion. As finding fish in the oceans has become increasingly difficult (and ecologically damaging) companies have increasingly turned to fish farming to meet an ever increasing demand. Fish farming or “aquaculture” now accounts for roughly half of the world’s food fish.
Protecting the Oceans: Antarctica
Why is it so important to protect the world’s remaining healthy ecosystems? Take, for example, the oceans of Antarctica: some of the healthiest and most intact ecosystems on the planet. This ecosystem is like a healthy patient: an example of what health looks like. Scientists can’t understand how much damage has been done in a sick ecosystem without a healthy comparison.
Anni Murray is a writer, editor, multimedia artist, amateur mycologist, and biology student. She is currently working on Prism, a speculative science fiction story cycle. All opinions expressed in this article are her own. Follow her on Twitter.