Canadians living on ocean coasts understand our dependence on the sea for everything from food to jobs to prescription drugs. The rest of us, living hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away, need to think a little harder about our ocean connections. Healthy oceans offer us a treasure trove of biodiversity that we tend to take for granted.
As valuable as our ocean treasures are, human behaviour continues to threaten them. Surprisingly, the greatest threats often arise, not on the oceans themselves, but far inland. As we forget or ignore our links to the ocean, we continue to poison ocean waters with chemicals and wastewater from our homes, schools, farms, and businesses. We destroy critical habitats by building houses and cottages on ecologically sensitive shorelines; we hasten climate change by burning fossil fuels; and we deprive migratory ocean wildlife, especially fish and birds, of the healthy inland habitats they need to complete complex life cycles. For these and many other reasons, Canadians must learn to understand and appreciate their connection to the saltwater world. After all, whether you live in Vancouver or Saskatoon, Truro or Timmins, your individual actions can hurt – or help – our threatened oceans.
Did You Know...?
- Eighty per cent of ocean pollution is caused by human activity on land. Billions of litres of untreated sewage gush into waterways from cities and communities every year. Besides human waste, this raw sewage contains a profusion of toxic chemicals, grease, oil, plastic bags and other synthetics, rags, hair, and gravel.
- Oceans provide us with fish and shellfish— the world's greatest sources of dietary protein.
- Canada has the longest coastline in the world—all 243,793 kilometres of it!
- Ocean flora and fauna provide life-saving pharmaceuticals such as anti-cancer drugs.
- Ocean waters contain thousands of different toxic chemicals from industries, farms, and households across the country.
- Urban communities flush up to 30 million litres of oil into aquatic ecosystems each year, as ordinary people carelessly pour waste oil down the drain.
- The ocean's algae absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen on a massive scale, keeping our atmosphere "breathable."
- Our rich cultural heritage of history, music, and stories connect us to oceans and their creatures.
- Shorelines provide opportunities for recreation, relaxation, and spiritual renewal.
A Sample of Ocean Gifts
Food products —fish, shellfish, kelp, carrageenan (thickener in foods)
Medicine — anti-leukemia drugs, anti-infection agents
Weather generation — winds and precipitation
Photosynthesis — oxygen cycling
Other products — sponges, pearls, sea salt, diatoms for filters
Jobs — fishing, processing, boat building, marine equipment sales
Tourism — beach holidays and cruises
Recreation — swimming, surfing, snorkelling, sailing, diving, exploring
Biodiversity — gene pool
Transportation — shipping and travel
Resources — oil exploration
Culture — music, songs, poems, stories, movies, collective history, news
What You Can Do To Help Oceans
By practising these activities every day, you'll give our oceans a boost:
- Choose items with reusable or recyclable packaging.
- Avoid littering—recycle paper and other "recyclables." This practice will produce less garbage and help reduce the chance of sending litter to the oceans (even from garbage dumps) to entangle or choke sea turtles, seals, and other wildlife.
- Use rechargeable batteries for battery-powered appliances.
- Dispose of toxic waste such as paints, old batteries, and medicine bottles through proper toxic waste facilities and pick-up services. Promote the use of non-toxic cleaners at home and at school.
- Keep lawns free of chemicals or fertilizers at home and school.
- Walk or bike whenever possible, rather than ride in a car.
- Turn off lights when leaving the room.
- Turn off appliances (such as TVs and computers) when they are not in use.
- When travelling, stay at ocean-side resorts that do not endanger coastal habitats (such as beaches, dunes, and marshes) through practices like excessive night lighting, over-development, and high impact recreational activities.
Celebrate Oceans Day!
Use your imagination to celebrate Oceans Day on June 8. Be sure to emphasize fun, variety, and audience participation. Here are a few ideas on how to celebrate:
- Make an Oceans Day poster and help raise public awareness about our ocean connections.
- Write feature articles for a local newspaper or radio about issues related to oceans.
- Write letters to the editor suggesting ways to help oceans.
- Create a library or school display (maps, aerial photos, sewer plans, river routes) showing our links with the sea.
- Plan an Oceans Day proclamation or parade involving local councillors and dignitaries.
- Organize an environmental fair with games and activities on an ocean theme.
- Host an oceans talent, poster, or story-writing contest.
- Take political action on a local or a broader scale.
- Support or initiate programs to reduce pesticide use and ocean-bound contaminants, especially along waterways.
- Initiate programs to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste, including toxic wastes, in your school and community.
- Promote trail, cycling, and sidewalk systems to encourage people to walk or cycle and reduce climate-changing automobile emissions.
- Help stop litter from entering marine or freshwater ecosystems. (Remember, they are all connected!)
- Post "No Dumping" signs beside wetlands and rivers.
- Encourage ports and marinas to provide garbage disposal facilities.
- Clean up a beach, lakeshore, or riverbank.
- Restore and protect local marine or freshwater ecosystems.
- Replant native vegetation along riverbanks (riparian areas) to improve wildlife habitat, reduce erosion, and stop fertilizers and chemicals from washing into waterways.
- Plant native grasses on coastal sand dunes (e.g., marram grass, sandwort, and beach pea) to reduce erosion of fragile ecosystems.
- Recruit a renowned speaker, musician, or celebrity.
- Decorate classrooms and hallways with poems, posters, artwork, maps, and displays.
- Play music with an ocean theme. Include a live choir production or an interactive puppet show.
- Screen videos or films about oceans, such as those available from the National Film Board, the Discovery Channel, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
- Offer sea-related snacks (such as shellfish, sushi, and kelp) or create a "food from the ocean" display.
- Display information about medicines and other products from the sea.
- Organize fun events, with prizes, such as a fish-pond, an oceanic dunk tank, or a sponge toss.
- Organize a colouring contest or poster give-away.
A Diversity of Life along the Ocean's Edge
Between the land and the ocean exists an incredibly diverse habitat called the intertidal zone. This is the area found between the high- and low-tide marks, exposed to the waves of high tide and the open air of low tide. Home to a wealth of sea creatures, such as starfish, snails, worms, clams, mussels, barnacles, and algae, it is often our first introduction to sea life.
The creatures that live within this community of extremes are hardy indeed. Exposed to cold winter conditions and summer's hot dry air, only those that are able to live both out of the water and in the pounding surf can survive.
Starfish, like the ones you can see on this year's Oceans Day poster, have developed thick spiny skin which keep them from drying out at low tide. Other intertidal denizens, such as worms, bury themselves in the soft sand. Barnacles and mussels produce sticky substances or threads to protect them from the relentless rise and fall of the waves at high tide.
But the intertidal zone supports other forms of wildlife as well. Shorebirds visit the area at low tide to feed on small invertebrates hiding in the sand. Bears or raccoons may come to snatch up fish left behind when the tide recedes.
Bordered by three oceans, and with the longest coastline in the world, Canada supports an amazing assemblage of species. Its shores offer an excellent opportunity to view wildlife in its native habitat.
© Canadian Wildlife Federation
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