You may live thousands of kilometres from the nearest coast. But the health of our oceans matters to all of us. And what each of us does affects their health.
Prairie, big city, mountain, and coastal inhabitants alike, we all have a stake in conserving the life-sustaining force of oceans. They feed us, satisfy our thirst, give us air to breathe, cure us of disease, control the world’s climate, and inspire us with their beauty and mystery.
Our profound connection to the world’s oceans results, in part, from the endless flow of water seaward through systems of rivers, lakes, and wetlands, called drainage basins. Much of the air we breathe and water we drink, in turn, come to us on atmospheric currents from oxygen produced by ocean plants and moisture evaporated from the sea.
Unfortunately, oceans are often a “blind spot” in our awareness of the planet that gives us life. Household hazardous wastes dumped into storm drains, raw sewage discharged into rivers and lakes, pesticides sprayed on crops and leached into wetlands and streams, contaminants and greenhouse gases spewed from factories and cars — they all work their way out to sea through those same drainage basins and atmospheric currents. Out of sight, out of mind. The result? We harm not only oceans but also countless marine species that depend on them to survive.
Take, for instance, the polar bear. Though it lives faraway from smokestacks and highways, it carries in its body high levels of contaminants, like dioxins and mercury, substances rarely if ever used in Canada’s North. How do they get there? On jet streams and trade winds. Each year, between December and April, there is a haze in the Arctic air. It contains contaminants that have drifted from southern Canada and industrial centres worldwide. Eventually, some of it falls in the sea. There, it climbs from the bottom to the top of the food chain through a process called biomagnification. When it finally enters the bodies of polar bears and other top ocean predators, it is millions of times more concentrated. Imagine — your town may be thousands of kilometres from the Arctic, yet emissions from cars and factories around you can harm the health of life forms as distant as polar bears.
So, what can we do to protect ocean health? One way is to celebrate Oceans Day, June 8 . Nowhere is it more important to motivate people to care about oceans than in inland communities, which are often unaware of their vital link with the sea. Oceans Day is a wonderful opportunity to turn awareness into action. It’s a perfect time to launch a community event, such as a water-quality campaign, river clean-up, beach sweep, or festival with an ocean theme.
No matter how big or how small your project may be, every little bit helps. That’s because, no matter where you live, oceans are closer than you think.
The Bear Facts
- The polar bear is known in Latin as Ursus maritimus, or the “bear of the sea.”
- The species has cavities on the soles of its feet that serve as suction cups to keep it from slipping on ice.
- Polar bears can run up to 40 kilometres per hour.
- They are strong swimmers and can travel long distances in icy water.
- Newborn cubs are no larger than guinea pigs.
- When hunting for seals, a polar bear will sometimes cover its black nose with its paw so seals cannot see it against the snow.
- The species has an excellent sense of smell and can sniff out food many kilometres away.
- The hair on a polar bear’s coat is waterproof.
Did You Know... ?
- All the Earth’s oceans and seas are actually one huge body of water.
- Humans throw about 5.4 million tonnes of litter into the ocean every year.
- Nearly half of our largest cities are built on or near estuaries (where bodies of fresh and salt water meet).
- Canada has the world’s longest coastline — all 243,792 kilometres of it!
- 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, gravel, and hair.
- Estuaries are important nursery grounds for two thirds of all animals that live in the sea?
- Jellyfish can be as small as a pea or as big as a patio umbrella.
- Beach surveys at Sable Island, an uninhabited island located 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax, have recovered 11,183 items of human garbage — 92 per cent of it plastic.
- Many important medicinal products come from the ocean, including anti-leukemia drugs from sea sponges, muscle relaxants from sea snails, and bone-graft materials from coral.
- The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth.
- Seventy-five per cent of ocean pollution comes from human activities on land. (Waste water, such as sewage and storm run-off, carries most of these contaminants out to sea.)
- Over two-thirds of the world’s human population lives within 80 kilometres of the ocean.
- Most of the world’s polar bear population lives in Canada.
What is an Ocean?
- Scientists define oceans as the whole bodies of water that cover nearly three-quarters of the planet’s surface.
- All the world’s oceans are actually one vast marine ecosystem, connected by great currents flowing from hemisphere to hemisphere.
- The entire ocean consists of seven connected oceans: the Arctic, Antarctic, North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian oceans. Also included are seas, such as the Beaufort and Mediterranean.
- Oceans and seas can reach depths of 10 kilometres.
- Oceans are saltiest where they are very hot, such as the Red Sea, or very cold, such as the Arctic.
- Unlike countries, oceans have no boundaries. No one knows exactly where one ocean becomes another.
- Sooner or later, all water drains into the ocean.
How You and Your Community Can Celebrate Oceans Day
- Educate yourself! Learn all you can about oceans and the problems they face.
- Discover all the ways in which you and your community are connected with the ocean — how you need it to survive and how your actions help or harm marine ecosystems — no matter where you live.
- Create an “Our Town and the Ocean” display at your local library or school, using maps, aerial photos, municipal sewer plans, and river routes to demonstrate how your community is linked with the sea.
- Develop a community action plan to clean up local waterways.
- Encourage family, friends, and community members to dispose of household hazardous wastes, such as leftover paint, motor oil, car and household batteries, and solvent containers, at proper waste disposal sites. Discourage them from dumping these wastes down the drain or into ordinary landfills.
- Link up with another community — coastal or inland— in a distant part of Canada or the world and collaborate on an ocean awareness activity or action project.
- Help protect sensitive aquatic habitats. Post “No Dumping” signs alongside wetlands and rivers.
- Cut marine debris off at its source. Encourage local ports and marinas to provide accessible garbage disposal facilities. When you go boating or visit a shoreline, take your trash back with you instead of leaving it behind.
- Take action on behalf of the Arctic Ocean.
- Fight the invasion of aquatic habitats by purple loosestrife, Eurasian ruffe, zebra mussels, round gobies, and other exotic plants and animals. These alien species are wreaking havoc on native wildlife habitat. Learn how to monitor their spread and report any new invasions.
- Make posters that publicize the need to protect the marine environment; request permission to post them in your town hall or community centre.
- Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns about the ocean and what should be done about them.
- Circulate a petition voicing your concerns about a particular ocean problem and suggesting a solution; collect signatures from family, friends, and neighbours — the more, the better — and send the petition to the prime minister, a member of Parliament, provincial premier, or other decision-makers.
- Prepare a news release or public service announcement describing your Oceans Day activities; submit it to a local newspaper or radio station.
- Recruit volunteers for a shoreline clean-up crusade through local media, posters displayed in community centres and schools, and by contacting groups such as Girl Guides, Scouts Canada, and 4-H clubs.
- Persuade your town council to officially declare Oceans Day and implement action projects.
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