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May 28, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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It’s Our Blue Planet Too

Scientists estimate that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

I’m sure that by now, you will have heard this statistic — maybe on the news, or on Facebook. Perhaps you thought for a moment: “well, that’s sad, but I don’t even like fish. I don’t swim in the ocean. How does this affect my life?”

The ocean is so far removed from our daily lives that it’s hard to fathom how important it is to our existence. Over the years, we have fought for our terrestrial environments because we see the problem right in front of us. However, in our society we tend to see the ocean as an enormous expanse of water, where the world beneath the waves is alien and, at times, incredibly hostile. Would we become more receptive to caring about ocean issues if we changed the way society as a whole viewed the ocean? If it became known as a nurturing living environment, rather than a place where terrifying creatures lurk?

I have been connected to the ocean my entire life, whether this be through SCUBA diving, volunteering at our local aquarium, or binging all of the ocean related David Attenborough documentaries. I am constantly thinking about it, so much that it has become a major part of my identity, and I would be lost without the purpose that fighting for it gives me. But I realise this is not the case for the vast majority of people in the world.

The great Dr Sylvia Earle says “oceans are our life support system”. 97% of the water we need to survive in the world comes from the oceans, and most of the oxygen generation in the atmosphere is done by microbes in the ocean. The ocean is a main driver of climate and weather, and as a result, helps stabilise our global temperatures. If there was no ocean, or the ocean became so unhealthy it couldn’t recuperate, then there would be no hope for any life on this planet.

We owe oceans our existence, and we need to give a damn.

By now, maybe you’re wondering what some of the issues with the ocean are. What follows is a short selection; some issues you might be aware of, and others might be new to you.
Ocean Acidification and Climate Change

The climate is getting warmer and more unpredictable because the atmosphere is overloaded with greenhouse gases. In response, sea levels are rising and the ocean is absorbing a lot of heat to try and cool down the atmosphere. This is leading our oceans to become more acidified, which is causing the bleaching and destruction of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. 27% of our coral reefs are already destroyed.
Marine Debris and Micro-Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution in our waters has reached an unprecedented level. There have been micro-plastic particles found across every ocean habitat, from the poles, to the deep sea, to the tropics. The larger plastics are choking and killing thousands of marine animals, while plastic particles in their blood is poisoning them. Plastics are now travelling up the food chain and are being found in the food we eat, too. Taking steps to cut single use plastics out of your life is a massive step towards combating these problems.

Overfishing and Exploitation/ Governance of the High Seas

Our oceans are being exploited. Industrial-scale fishing methods are destroying habitats, draining our oceans of fish, affecting ecosystem development, and causing small scale fisheries — often from vulnerable communities — to suffer. Unsafe fishing methods used for large scale fishing, and the lack of regulation in ungoverned expanses of ocean that don’t have a national jurisdiction, leads to a staggering amount of bycatch, which is when unwanted species like whale sharks, dolphins, turtles, and other large animals are caught in nets and then thrown back into the sea to die. Until there is effective international legislation and governance of these high sea areas, illegal fishing practices will continue with little resistance.

The Need for Marine Protected Areas (species/habitat loss)

In the last 40-50 years, half of all marine species have disappeared. Marine Protected Areas have been created to help preserve biodiversity. However, out of all the Marine Protected Areas around the world, only 10% are considered no-take reserves, while in other sites designated as Marine Protected Areas might ban only some human activities, such as oil exploration. Within New Zealand, there are 34 no-take reserves, which accounts for only 0.3% of our total marine environment. There are currently no protected areas in New Zealand’s deep seas, leaving deep sea marine animals unprotected. I encourage you to keep reading about these issues, to form opinions for yourself, and to think about both small and collective things you could do to create change. All actions make a difference.

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He Tāonga

:   I wanted to write this piece, in order to connect to all tauira within the University, with the hope that we can all remind ourselves that we are a part of an environment which is valuable, no matter our culture, our beliefs or our skin colour. The ultimate purpose of this