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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn VanDenBerg

World Ocean Day: Conserving the Earth's Largest Ecosystem

World Ocean Day: Conserving the Earth’s Largest Ecosystem

Evelyn VanDenBerg (2022-23 Iowa UNA College Ambassador from Drake University)

June 8th celebrates another year of World Ocean Day, a time to recognize the importance of a healthy ocean for our planet. The concept of a day to celebrate ocean sustainability was proposed in 1992 but was not recognized by the United Nations General Assembly until 2008. The ocean is the world’s largest ecosystem, covering more than 70% of the world. This makes the ocean a crucial and irreplaceable ecosystem to sustain human life. More than 50% of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean, mainly in the form of photosynthetic plankton close to the surface. This oxygen production is more than what all of the world’s rainforests produce (~28% of the world’s oxygen). Not only does the ocean provide the world with oxygen to exist, but the ocean provides food that supports economies all over the world. Seafood is the main protein source for more than one billion people in the world.

The major goal of World Ocean Day is the 30 x 30 initiative, a plan to protect at least 30% of the ocean and water resources by 2030. Today, less than 3% of the ocean has enough protective regulations to completely shelter the biodiversity. More Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are needed to prevent overfishing, oil spills, overtourism, etc., so that the world does not deplete oceanic resources to a point of no return.

There are many threats that our ocean ecosystem faces. Many climate change problems have heightened in the past decades such as sea surface temperature increases, sea level rise, coastal flooding, and ocean acidification. Other anthropogenic threats include an overabundance of pollution, overfishing, and human-caused coral reef degradation.

The graph above compiles data collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which shows the average global sea surface temperature anomalies over the years. The ever-increasing temperature of our oceans has major effects on the biodiversity of our ocean that supports the health and economies of humans.

One common issue contributing to oceanic resource depletion is the death of coral reefs. Reefs are a crucial ecosystem for erosion mitigation, shelter for fish species that humans consume, and for economic growth through tourism. The UN Environment Programme, International Coral Reef Initiative, and the International Sustainability Unit have estimated that coral reefs contribute a net economic value of tens of billions of dollars annually. One of the largest problem coral reef ecosystems face is a concept called coral bleaching. This phenomenon of corals undergoing a color shift to white is due to warming ocean temperatures as well as excess nutrients through dumping waste in the ocean. Coral and algae (zooxanthellae) live in a healthy, symbiotic relationship where the algae are protected by the coral’s shelter and in return provide energy through photosynthesis (and provide the coral’s natural color). When water temperatures are too warm, the algae will leave and cause the coral to lose its color, become vulnerable, and oftentimes die. From 2009 to 2020, an estimated 14% of coral reefs have been lost to bleaching.

Another threat that coral reefs are through human-actions. Coral are diploblastic organisms, meaning that the living, outside layer is only two cell layers thick and has an internal structure of calcium carbonate. Practically, this means that basically any pressure (such as dropping an anchor or even stepping on coral when snorkeling) can cause that area of coral to be harmed or even die. Protecting coral reefs is an important way to help preserve the ocean.

Every person can contribute to ocean sustainability. Here are ways that you can individually help protect our oceans:

● Eat sustainably harvested seafood

● Reduce plastic consumption, especially single-use plastic

● Participate in ocean clean-ups

● Support organizations focused on climate action

● Advocate for policies that protect our oceans

● Be an informed and eco-friendly tourist (i.e., do not step on coral when snorkeling or do not fish for threatened marine life)

● Learn more about the issues surrounding climate change and the impacts on our oceans

The Iowa United Nations Association encourages the support of this cause by first raising awareness for World Ocean Day. Participating and engaging in World Ocean Day activities is a great way to become more aware of the threats to the ocean. The Iowa Division of UNA-USA appreciates your advocacy for ocean protection and sustainability.

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