Why the Ocean Matters in a Rapidly Warming World

Every day, more and more articles land in my inbox that describe strange occurrences happening in the ocean--huge "blobs" of warm water, "dead zones" without oxygen, wild fluctuation of currents. Many of these events have no precedent in recorded history, and they cannot be explained by the rules of the ocean system as we know them.

Taken together, they paint a picture of our ocean under rapid change and increasing stress. The ocean is the planet's most important climate regulator, and it is starting to respond to the growing amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere in ways that are extremely difficult to predict and even more challenging to manage.

These changes will impact all our lives, from the communities that depend on the ocean for food and commerce to entire national economies. We are already experiencing these changes. Fishermen along the eastern seaboard are seeing their catch move to colder waters; oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly declared bankruptcy because of ocean acidification; the Mississippi River Delta is disappearing before our very eyes; Miami and New Orleans are preparing for rising sea levels.

The future of our ocean is directly linked to the conversations taking place at the United Nations climate conference (COP21) in Paris.

Over the next two weeks, there will be heated discussion about climate change adaptation vs. mitigation, treaties and regulation vs. technological innovation, etc. These debates blur when we talk about the ocean. We can't make it through the climate challenge with an ocean in trouble. The ocean is vital in sequestering massive amounts of carbon and distributing heat across the planet. Yet we compromise the ability of the ocean to function by putting too much pollution in (carbon emissions, plastic waste, chemicals) and taking too much of its life out (overfishing still occurs in many parts of the ocean).

If the ocean were a person, it would probably say: "Help me help you. Treat me well, and I can help us through this climate crisis.

Protecting our ocean becomes a vital strategy in tackling climate change. Every time we make the right call on fishing quotas to keep fish populations healthy and fishermen in business. Every time we restore a wetland. Every time we decide to reduce chemicals and fertilizer going into coastal areas like the Chesapeake Bay. Every oil spill that does not happen. Every plastic item that does not end up in the water. It all matters.

At Ocean Conservancy, we recognize that the health of the ocean is tied to fate of our planet . And that's why we're focused on reducing plastic waste in the ocean; improving fisheries management; and seeking solutions with people to safeguard our ocean.

So I choose to be optimistic about the negotiations taking place in Paris right now and the country pledges - particularly from the U.S. and China - to reduce emissions. I am heartened that every single nation at the negotiations is starting with the premise that climate change is real, man-made and incredibly dangerous. And that together we can do something about it.

And through our actions, we are protecting the ocean - and each other.