Co-authored by Erica Cirino
Oceans are essential to life on Earth: They cover more than two-thirds of the planet and contain 97 percent of its water. They absorb carbon from the atmosphere, helping regulate our climate. They provide humans with food and transportation routes for trade and travel. And best of all, they’re filled with magnificent life, from tiny plankton to enormous blue whales.
While generally places of wonder and beauty, some marine ecosystems are becoming quite ugly—covered with toxic algae, tainted by chemical pollution, deprived of oxygen and choking—absolutely choking—with plastic and other trash. With cars, power plants and factories burning more fossil fuels than ever before, the seas are absorbing so much carbon dioxide that seawater’s becoming excessively acidic to the point that it’s killing coral, plankton and shellfish. Species are being lost at an extraordinary rate due to overfishing, and rising water temperatures caused by climate change are driving many marine animals to the brink of extinction.
“Over my lifetime I’ve seen big changes; far fewer fish and terribly deteriorated coral reefs worldwide. More mercury in seafood,” says Safina Center founder and president Carl Safina. “Growing up, we knew nothing of melting polar ice or acidification.”
Despite the many problems facing the oceans, there have been many success stories. For example, Safina points out the 1972 ban on DDT led to the recovery of osprey and eagles, fish-eating birds that were once a rare sight on the East Coast, where he grew up. Additionally, Safina and others worked with the UN to ban enormous driftnets and to pass other legislation meant to curb overfishing. As a result, many fish species along the coasts are recovering.
Today, World Oceans Day, is the perfect time to think about our relationship with oceans. First celebrated unofficially on June 8, 1992, as part of the United Nation’s Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, World Oceans Day became an “official” UN-recognized holiday in 2008, with the first UN World Oceans Day held on June 8, 2009.
The purpose of World Oceans Day: to celebrate the beauty and wonder of the oceans and its creatures, and ocean-conservation success stories, while bringing attention to the many problems they face so that they may be changed.
Carl Safina and his staff have played leading roles in ocean conservation since the early 1990s, before the first official World Oceans Day. Here’s an overview of some our proudest ocean-related accomplishments:
- Our founder and president Carl Safina has worked extensively on fishing policies such as the United Nations ban on high-seas drift nets, and a major overhaul of U.S. fishing law that is resulting in many recovering fish populations along our coasts. Carl hosted the 10-part PBS series Saving the Ocean; he’s written about ocean issues in Song for the Blue Ocean, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle and other books. He chronicled the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in A Sea in Flames, and he writes and speaks regularly about oceans and conservation in various media and as a guest on NPR and at CNN.com.
Carl Safina writing “Eye of the Albatross,” accompanied by albatross. Credit: Tui DeRoy
- Experts including research scientist and Sustainable Seafood Program Director Elizabeth Brown-Hornstein and fisheries scientist Eric Gilman contribute to the Safina Center’s Sustainable Seafood Program, which works to translate the latest seafood science so that consumers, chefs, fish sellers and medical professionals can make better choices about buying, selling and catching seafood.
- Safina Center Writer in Residence Paul Greenberg writes about seafood and fisheries; he is the author of James Beard Award-winning, New York Timesbestseller Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, and American Catch, and is currently working on a new book called The Omega Principle: A Journey to the Bottom of the Marine Food Web that explores the importance of forage fish in the marine food web. He just contributed to a coming PBS Frontline documentary on salmon.
- Safina Center Creative Affiliate Chris Jordan is a visual artist who has explored the issue of plastic use and plastic pollution in the oceans in his piece “Blue” and photography series “Midway: Message from the Gyre.”
- Safina Center Creative Affiliate Lori Marino is a neuroscientist, animal behavior expert and Founder/Executive Director of The Whale Sanctuary Project, a new nonprofit with the goal of establishing a seaside sanctuary for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) retired from aquariums or injured in the wild.
- Safina Center Fellow Hob Osterlund is a Hawaii-based photographer and author who works to conserve albatross, one of the islands’ most beloved native seabirds.
- Safina Center Fellows Shawn Heinrichs—filmmaker, photographer and marine conservationist—and John Weller—writer, filmmaker and photographer—work together to bring attention to marine conservation issues through photography and film campaigns, which have successfully resulted in new shark and manta ray sanctuaries in the Bahamas and Micronesia, as well as new marine protected areas in Indonesia, and a new international law protecting manta rays.
- Past Safina Center Fellow Ellen Prager, author and marine scientist, recently published several children’s books in her Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians series to education young people about ocean conservation issues.
- Past Safina Center Fellows Demien Chapman and Debra Abercrombie, shark geneticists and conservationists, have worked to fight the shark fin trade and help strengthen wild shark populations by advocating for policies limiting the trade of sharks and shark products.
This World Oceans Day we should celebrate pasts successes, but also look to the future. While a lot’s been accomplished, there’s still much to do to help the oceans. The oceans can recover, says Carl. “But we need more people involved. We need you. No one can do everything, but every one can do something. Ask yourself what you can do—then get involved.”