Obscured Oceans: What We Don't/Can't See, We Harm

Image by Dana Ellis Hunnes

I was a child of the early 1980s. Looking back, perhaps with a certain ethereal fondness, it seemed like life was simpler, values were different, people were more in tune with their surroundings; and certainly, more in-tune with each other (no cell phones here!).

My 2 1/2 year-old son on the other hand, is growing up in a world where climate change is real, investing in wildlife conservation is a must, and where biological diversity is falling precipitously and at unprecedented rates.

Roughly two months ago we went out on the ocean, on a boat, to go whale watching, to see some of the most majestic animals on the planet, and long lived. To see one of the biggest brains in the ocean, that somehow manages to live off one of the smallest edible life-forms in the ocean. To see an animal that causes no harm to humans, but almost came to extinction by the hands of humans.

This boating trip that was two months ago? You would have thought it was yesterday. My son talks about it ALL THE TIME. In his short-lived life, it made a huge impression. He LOVED those whales and dolphins. In fact, hundreds of dolphins swam by, almost in unison. Their magnificence and their ability to bow-ride in unison and with grace was unlike anything we had ever seen. It was unprecedented and cannot be understated.

But, as adults where has our sense of wonder gone?

It seems we are all buried in our phones, in our work, in our "problems" that we forget there are BIGGER problems than ourselves occurring in the world. Right now. On land. In our Oceans. And, we are not doing enough to help.

We ignore what happens under the ocean's surface, because we cannot see it. Therefore, everything must be OK, that the oceans must still be pristine waterscapes, unmarred, and untouched.

But, that is the problem.

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th century's humans nearly caused most whales to go extinct, FOREVER. And, while they are still recovering, even today some nations still engage in whaling, and sometimes for "fun."

Ghost nets--abandoned fishing gear--resides in the oceans, sometimes miles wide obliterating, drowning, trapping, destroying everything in their wake.

Yet, from the surface, everything seems fine. We can't see those nets, we can't see their path of destruction. All we see is a "beautiful" but obscured ocean.

Nets, often a mile long and a couple-hundred years deep, are often splayed out in the oceans to capture fish. As they are brought on deck, they bring with them not only the intended fish, but unintended fish, seals, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, coral reefs, almost anything marine you can think of. The whole gamut of oceanic biological diversity.

Now, imagine the African Savanna. Imagine a net a mile long and a couple hundred yards tall being dragged across the plains. Imagine giraffes, zebras, elephants, hyenas, meer cats, wild dogs, hippopotamuses, any living thing, birds, trees, bushes being dragged into the net; injured, suffocating.

You can't imagine it, can you?

Because, we wouldn't allow this to happen on land.

No, on land things are done differently. The destruction may be no less to wildlife, from culling elephants and poaching, to destroying habitat via clear-cutting. But, the difference is, on land, there is (some) transparency. We can see what we're doing. It's evident in satellite images.

In the the oceans, it's as bad, if not worse. The difference? It's obscured.

Whether on land, or in the seas, it's atrocious and a blight on humanity.

But, this is perhaps the problem. Countries control land. The oceans are a global commons (once outside a country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)).

Nobody owns the oceans; yet, everybody owns the oceans.

With no single country owning the oceans, everyone does as they please; pillaging, removing wildlife, dumping trash, water pollution, everything you can think of.

With no single country owning the oceans, no one is responsible for the cleanup, for the conservation, for the protection, for the oversight.

Therein lies one of the problems.

There are conservation organizations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). But, from what I can tell these organizations do not really have regulatory or disciplinary oversight.

Thus, the damage continues. And, because we cannot readily see it, we cannot believe it. We cannot believe the oceans are running out of fish - THEY ARE. 80% of fish stocks globally are either overexploited or fully exploited.

We cannot believe there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish - BUT THERE WILL BE BY 2048.

We cannot believe there are mass oceanic "graves" where animals can no longer live because of dead zones caused by human-waste waters and other toxic chemicals.

This is the problem with Obscured Oceans.

I wish desperately that we could bring out our inner toddler. Every day. The one in all of us who marvels at nature, at the sky, at the oceans, the one who remembers that fateful day on the ocean like it was yesterday, today, and hopefully tomorrow.

image credit: Huffington Post Images

That is my hope, my dream. That we all remember how much we depend on our oceans, how much we need them, and how much they have provided us. They deserve our help and our protection.

Please refer back to my previous posts (Plastic: it's what's for dinner and Apathy to our Overfished Oceans) for some recommendations to protect the oceans.