The big drink. The briny deep. The bounding main. Call it what you will, the ocean is vital to all life on Earth. No one who has seen our planet from space would call it "Earth," but, rather, "Oceanica," since water and ice cover nearly three-quarters of its surface. The continents we live on are islands in the midst of vast, flowing currents. As occupants of the only blue planet in our solar system, we are water creatures. Wherever we live — big city, prairie, mountain, forest, riverside, tundra, or shore — we could not survive without the ocean:
- We are connected with it through the never-ending flow of water seaward through drainage basins: vast networks of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, and coastal zones. For centuries, we've explored the world on ships with the ocean as our path. Migratory species, like waterfowl, shore birds, marine mammals, fish, and sea turtles also rely on the ocean as a link between habitats.
- A huge weather machine, the ocean evaporates in the suns warmth to form water vapour, which falls to the Earth as rain, fog, or snow. This water, which living things need to survive, then flows back to sea. The abundance of heat the ocean absorbs prevents the Earth's temperature from rising or falling too drastically. Ocean currents, always on the move, control climate too. In the late 1990s, for example, El Nino, a mysterious climatic phenomenon that happens every two to seven years because of the warming up of the Pacific Ocean Current, brought a heat wave to the Prairies and the worst ice storm in recent history to Eastern Canada.
- Multitudes of ocean plants, particularly tiny algae called phytoplankton, provide almost half the oxygen we breathe; they remove more carbon dioxide — the main cause of global warming — from the air than all the Earth's rain forests combined.
- The ocean is a submarine supermarket, nourishing us with everything from crustaceans to kelp, from scallops to sea cucumbers.
- It is a floating pharmacy, healing us with antibiotics from marine fungi, anti-leukemia drugs from sea sponges, and anti-infection agents from kelp.
- Ocean habitats, especially coastal zones, support an amazing array of plants and animals, which we need to maintain the Earth's biological diversity.
- The ocean also satisfies our spiritual needs, soothing us and inspiring creativity.
Battle with the Blue Planet
We may be water creatures, but we have forgotten about our connection with the ocean. For thousands of years, inlanders and coastal dwellers alike have done battle with the sea. Actions that seem to do us good often harm the ocean:
- Overharvesting has driven many marine animals, including the sea mink and Steller's sea cow, into extinction. Other once abundant species, like the North Atlantic cod, sea otter, and blue whale have also declined because of overfishing and overhunting.
- Marine pollution — 80 per cent of which comes from land — works its way out to sea through sewer pipes, drainage basins, and wind currents. This lethal brew includes, among other things, billions of litres of human waste, detergents, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, toxic chemicals, and emissions from industries and cars. These pollutants kill countless creatures, like shellfish, sea ducks, and marine mammals. Our use of oceans as dumping grounds for garbage has taken a huge toll on shore birds, whales, sea turtles, and many other ocean species, which entangle themselves in, or choke on, marine debris, such as steel cables, lost fishing nets, and plastic bags.
- Since we began transforming Canada’s shorelines, our communities, industries, harbours, farms, dikes, and sewers have damaged and destroyed untold hectares of habitat. The coastal environments hardest hit — estuaries, saltmarshes, mudflats, beaches, deltas, and kelp forests — are also the most biologically rich, and their loss has an enormous effect on ocean health.
- Overharvesting of ocean animals, marine pollution and debris, destruction of coastal habitats, and other human impacts harm not only the ocean but also its biodiversity (biological diversity), which means a variety of living things, the gene pools within a given species, and the ecosystems it inhabits.
Celebrate the Ocean
Our battle with the blue planet has to stop. We must realize that there is no other planet that can support such water creatures as ourselves. Worldwide pollution-control agreements, marine protected areas, and growing consciousness of the oceans vast importance to our lives and how we can use its resources wisely are some of the changes that offer us hope.
- We Canadians have a lot to celebrate. We have the longest coastline on Earth (an amazing 244,000 kilometres on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans), part of the largest freshwater resource (the Great Lakes), and the longest waterway (the St. Lawrence River). Our waters harbour huge populations of fish, sea birds, waterfowl, seals, and whales. We have an enormous interest in conserving our aquatic heritage.
© Canadian Wildlife Federation
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