Dying Oceans and how to help

Carter Fournier, Staff Writer

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The earth is covered by 71 percent water and most of that water is from the oceans, the last unexplored frontier on planet Earth. We have explored less than 5 percent of the world’s oceans. Even so, we are killing many parts of the ocean by over-fishing and polluting them causing a mass extinction that has not been seen in millions of years. It’s happening faster than one might realize. 

Most of our fish is caught by bottom trawling (using large nets attached to the back of moving ships) which catches millions of tons of seafood each year around the world. The problem is bottom trawling destroys coral and removes seaweed used for oxygen. Trawling in general catches many things that aren’t meant to be caught. This is called bycatch. Most of the bycatch caught is thrown back into the ocean dead or dying. Many species are caught to use just one part of the animal wasting the rest of it.

An example of this is Finning practices in many parts of Asia. Sharks are caught and their fins are cut off to be used to make a regional dish called shark fin soup. Shark meat is also popular in Australia. The shark is then thrown back into the ocean to drown.  According to a 2013 report in the Journal Marine Policy an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans 73 million are killed just for their fins. Sadly, Sharks are an endangered species and play an important role in the natural balance of the ocean. Although many are afraid of sharks, their extinction would have a number of disastrous effects.

Another species facing possible extinction is the Bluefin Tuna. Scientists believe the Bluefin population is down as much as 97%. This has led to a surge in the price of Bluefin because its rare and in such high demand. Many Bluefin, too young to have offspring, are accidentally killed due to trawling practices limiting bluefin tuna reproduction.

Shrimp harvesting is also harming the ocean. Americans love shrimp. So much so it’s the most popular seafood in the United States but there’s a dark side to this. For every pound of shrimp caught there is anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds of bycatch.  Although shrimp fisheries make up only 2% of the world’s fish catch but are responsible for over one-third of the world’s bycatch according to treehugger.com.

One thing people can do to help solve this issue of over fishing is by choosing to eat fish that grow up faster and are more likely to reproduce. Another thing that can be done is choosing to eat species that are invasive to local ecosystems. One of those is the Lionfish which is found in the south pacific ocean in and around coral reefs, rocky areas, and lagoons. The species was accidentally introduced in the Atlantic ocean along the east coast of the USA where the fish has become a big problem and  has threatened native wildlife and are competing with native fish for limited resources. Many think Lionfish are poisonous for human consumption but they are not. Once the venomous spines are removed they are completely safe for consumption. Some restaurants in Florida are starting to add fresh caught lionfish to their menus but that’s not enough. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay even did an episode of one of his shows The F-Word where he went diving for Lionfish off the coast of Florida to cook.

Another big issue facing our oceans is pollution. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA the majority of the oceans pollution comes from human activities on land that then ends up in the ocean through runoff. Plastics and other garbage are mistaken for food by fish who then consume it and die. A study by the Earth Institute at Columbia University in 2011 found Plastic bags can take 20 years to decompose but that’s nothing compared to the 450 years a plastic bottle may take or 600 years for fishing line to decompose. This garbage in the ocean has created large garbage patches in every one of the oceans. The largest of these is the Pacific garbage patch which is located roughly 1000 miles from Hawaii and California. Garbage patches form due to ocean currents that flow in a circular pattern as warm water travels toward the poles and cold water travels to the equator. The garbage patches are formed when trash and debris gets trapped inside the large currents and form a thick soup of garbage and sea water that kills and poisons fish. The toxic garbage consumed by fish then travels up the food chain to humans. Plastic, as it decomposes, will break apart into smaller and smaller pieces making it easier for fish to swallow and harder to be cleaned up. Also much of the debris may sink to the ocean floor so the soap of plastic in the ocean isn’t even all the trash.

Additionally, oil spills don’t make things better for our oceans. Disasters like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989 killed sea life and have had a long lasting effect of the marine environments. The world’s coral reefs are also in big trouble. There have been numerous bleaching events around the world recently where coral bleaches and dies due to rising temperatures related to climate change and increased acidity of the water. They are important habitats for many living things.

Some things you can do to prevent the oceans from becoming more polluted are reducing your use of plastic or donate to an organization that supports organizations like Greenpeace that push to clean up and prevent the pollution and overfishing of the world’s oceans. As humans we seem to not want to care about something that is incredibly important until it’s gone. And with the overfishing and polluting of the oceans if its gone, its too late.

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