World Oceans Day Reflection
Although I grew up in the hustling metropolis of Manhattan, I spent most of my summers in a small town on Long Island called Lawrence. Home to around 6600 people, Lawrence is right on the banks of Reynolds Channel which separates a long thin island of sandwich shops and surfers from the rest of the world. For as long as I can remember, the Atlantic Beach Bridge has welcomed me with murky green waves to the beaches that I grew up on.
Since I was eight, I have been an avid surfer. To this day, there is nothing that is as emotionally and physically stimulating as flying down the face of a wave. Growing up in the rolling waves on Long Island, I have become accustomed to the plastic bags and gloves floating past me. I have become used to broken bottles on the shores and plastic bottles among the grassy dunes, the routine shrill whistles of the lifeguards pulling everyone out of the water because of a leak of toxic medical waste. I thought that oceanic pollution was around forever and that it was completely normal. I cannot believe how ignorant I was. None of this is normal.
The ocean is in no way shape or form a trash can. I am outraged by how much waste flows into the sea every day, as 5.25 trillion pieces of debris float in our oceans as we speak (National Geographic). Frighteningly, with the rising prevalence of microplastics, those smaller than five millimeters in length, a myriad of plastic fragments inhabit water that is, to the eye, clear and blue. As a result of anthropogenic (human-generated) pollution, millions of species of aquatic life, from fish to seabirds, face deadly consequences. It is ridiculous that we as humans care so little about the livelihoods of aquatic species, especially since they benefit ours so greatly through tourism, fisheries, among many other ways.
This past summer, I embarked on a Marine Conservation Expedition to Nanuya Lailai in the Yasawa Islands in Fiji. From planting 1500 mangroves to reef surveys to working in a local village, I certainly experienced first hand the importance of marine ecosystems to the sustainability of smaller communities. After all, coral reefs provide livelihoods to 500 million people across the tropics and subtropics (Capstone). Without the pristine aquatic biodiversity, the local villages we worked in could not survive, yet their beaches were littered with trash.
Furthermore, as a result of anthropogenic climate change, coral reefs are globally facing a multitude of threats. The most pressing and hazardous is without a doubt, coral bleaching. In the natural process of coral bleaching, coral polyps, as a result of stress from overheating, expel their symbiotic algae which starve and kill the polyps only leaving behind their bony white skeleton. Coral Bleaching events are triggered by temporary increases in temperature of between 1.5ºC - 2.0ºC that lasts between six to eight weeks. Thus, bleaching is a result of marine heatwaves but exacerbated by rising sea temperatures and ocean acidifications, results of climate change. Coral Bleaching has the potential to derail entire ecosystems, resulting in not only the extinction of a multitude of species but also loss of human profits from food sources to tourism-based revenue.
I conducted my Junior Capstone project on the Great Barrier Reef’s Coral Bleaching, and I am horrified at my own research. Over 90% of the Great Barrier Reef has been impacted by bleaching (Capstone), and if it continues at its current rate, hundreds of thousands of species could be faced with huge population declines with the reef system’s death. The Australian economy could lose billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs could be at risk.
If not for the lives of aquatic species essential to marine ecosystems, you should care about preserving our oceans for their human benefits. While the priority in conservation is marine life and mitigating the anthropogenic damage to the ocean’s ecosystems, life on Earth as we know it could not function without healthy oceans. So the next time you are in Starbucks, maybe bring your own cup or mug. The next time you go to CVS, maybe bring your backpack. Advocate for the strengthening of nationally determined contributions to the Paris Climate Accord. Little changes could make a huge difference, it just takes some effort.
My Junior Capstone: