- Our Impact: Threats
- Science: Explained
Why is the Ocean so important?
Introducing the Ocean: Our most precious, life-giving, climate–regulating, yet recklessly exploited, undervalued, and underfunded resource.
Covering over 70% of our blue planet and holding roughly 97% of the world’s water, the Ocean provides the foundation for all living things. From the smallest plankton to the largest animal to have ever lived (the blue whale). And that’s just the beginning of why the Ocean is important.
Energy is cycled across its single, interconnected system; keeping everything in balance. It allows all life to exist together in harmony.
Just think about that. All the rainforests, grasslands, mountain ranges and deserts combined with every town, city and village of human civilisation make up less than 10% of the liveable space on our planet.
Everything else is Ocean.
An Ocean which is home to the world’s largest mountain range (the Mid Ocean Ridge is over seven times longer than the Andes).
And the world’s deepest canyon. (Challenger Deep is six times deeper than the Grand Canyon and could easily swallow Mount Everest.)
This vast, interconnected body of water exists on a scale so large that it’s almost beyond the realm of our understanding.
But we need to understand why the Ocean is important.
The Ocean defines our planet and provides the very foundation of our existence.
If it could talk, the Ocean would be able to tell us all about the dinosaurs, the ice age, and how Stonehenge or Egypt’s pyramids were really built. The Ocean watched as the earliest Homo Sapiens (that’s us) took our first footsteps. It may even hold the secrets to the very beginning of life on Earth.
To look back at the history of the Ocean is to look back at the history of life itself.
For millions of years, the Ocean has provided the conditions required for the evolution of all living things. The Ocean burst into life during the Cambrian explosion (the *relatively* sudden radiation and divergence of complex life forms) around 538.8 million years ago and has seen all five mass extinction events since.
Make that six.
At this very moment, we are living through the sixth mass extinction event. Research shows that species are now going extinct between 100 and 1,000 times faster than natural, background extinction rates.
The delicate balance of life which has been slowly ticking along for millions of years has taken decades to unravel.
According to the IUCN Red List, over 44,000 assessed species are threatened with extinction.
It’s almost impossible to comprehend that we are hurtling towards destruction on a scale comparable to that caused by a colossal asteroid collision 66 million years ago. (That, the last mass extinction event, wiped out the dinosaurs).
Except this time, humanity are both the asteroid and the dinosaurs.
Is the Ocean too vast to feel our impact?
People used to think the Ocean existed on such an infinite, untouchable scale that nothing we, people, could do would affect its limitless bounty.
“Man marks the earth with ruin – his control stops with the shore…”– Lord Byron, Nineteenth Century.
We now know that this is wrong.
Throughout the last decades, our Ocean has been heating up. It’s becoming more acidic, choking in plastic, drained of its fish stocks, and pumped with toxic chemicals at a rate far beyond which it can sustain.
We have borne witness to record breaking temperatures, mass coral-bleaching and glacial melting events. Now, we are hurtling towards a ‘new normal’ in which instability and volatility are centre stage.
We have been recklessly exploiting our Ocean system.
We have watched as records are broken time and time again.
But in 2023, the Ocean temperature record wasn’t just broken, it was absolutely obliterated.
In fact, the entire upper 2000m of the Ocean experienced shatteringly high temperatures. As this surface layer heats up, it’s less able to mix with deep water below. As a result, surface oxygen content has decreased.
This isn’t only detrimental to marine ecosystems, but it also slows the Ocean’s life-saving ability to sequester (remove and store) atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The global water cycle has also been amplified by our warming Ocean. For us on land, this means stronger, longer droughts as well as intensified rainfall, storm, and flooding events.
Restoring the Ocean starts on land – with us.
Just like how people once thought the Ocean was too large to feel our impacts. Now, it may seem like our impacts are too large to solve. But we know this isn’t true.
We have the technology, the knowledge, and the power to turn the tide and reverse our trajectory.
We know this because we’re in many parts of the world, it’s already happening.
Effectively managed Marine Protected Areas, Maximum Sustainable Yields (the maximum catch size that can be removed from a population to maintain a healthy and sustainable fish stock), and the rise in renewable energy technologies are all ways in which humanity has learned to collaborate more fairly with nature.
Working with the Ocean rather against it can reap limitless benefits for both people and planet. If the Ocean thrives, so do we.
This knowledge is power.
Power to be part of the solution, to consider the cost of inaction and unite to ensure our Ocean’s health is considered in all decisions – personal, business, and government policies.
We have a unique opportunity to be the first generation to leave our precious Ocean in a better state than we found it.
Your actions may feel like a drop in the Ocean, but together we can make waves of change.
Start by signing up to our newsletter and reading about 15 climate actions you can take to restore our Ocean. Learn more about why the Ocean is important by adding it to your scroll via your favourite social platform: