June 8, 2010

Happy World Oceans Day! Or Not.

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly decided that June 8 would be designated “World Oceans Day.”

Photo by Sean Davey

The UN‘s Secretary-General’s message on the first World Oceans Day, June 8,2009:

The first observance of World Oceans Day allows us to highlight the many ways in which oceans contribute to society. It is also an opportunity to recognize the considerable challenges we face in maintaining their capacity to regulate the global climate, supply essential ecosystem services and provide sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.

Indeed, human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources. Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

Oceans are also affected by criminal activity. Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 percent of the world’s goods. Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans.

Several international instruments drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations address these numerous challenges. At their centre lies the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, and is the basis for international cooperation at all levels. In addition to aiming at universal participation, the world must do more to implement this Convention and to uphold the rule of law on the seas and oceans.

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development.

Fast forward to the 2nd World Oceans Day. Today. As of 10:22 a.m. EST, an estimated 22,074,590 gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy of Beyond Petroleum. Or, wait, should we thank Transocean? Some say it’s President Obama’s fault.

Photo: Flickr.com | p2radio

Whatever the case, we don’t have to worry because our oceans are massive leaving us much to celebrate. I think it would be appropriate to mark this day with a couple of quotes that gushed from BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s mouth early on in BP’s Gulf disaster:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

“Apollo 13 [the unsuccessful third mission to the moon in 1970] did not stop the space race,” he said. “Neither did the Air France plane last year coming out of Brazil [which mysteriously crashed] stop the world airline industry flying people around the world. It’s the same for the oil industry.”

These quotes are sure to become cult classics to mark Oceans Day for years to come.

Another ocean issue to consider is ocean acidification, which may soon challenge marine life on a scale not seen for tens of millions of years. The documentary film Acid Test explores this startling phenomenon. Of course, the issues don’t end there.

On the bright side, there are many fabulous ocean conservation organizations and conservationists.

The Ocean Project. Advancing ocean conservation in partnership with zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs), The Ocean Project helps reach the millions of visitors and the public on the importance of conserving our ocean planet. The concept for a “World Ocean Day” was actually first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and it had been unofficially celebrated every year since then. Since 2002, The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network have helped to promote and coordinate World Oceans Day events worldwide, helping to coordinate events and activities with aquariums, zoos, museums, conservation organizations, universities, schools, and businesses. Each year an increasing number of countries and organizations have been marking June 8th as an opportunity to celebrate our world ocean and our personal connection to the sea. [Check here for an event near you]. The Ocean Project was the organization behind a widely circulated petition to the United Nations urging them to officially recognize World Oceans Day! Kudos to The Ocean Project and all those who signed!

Oceana. Founded in 2001, Oceana is the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation. Our offices in North America, Central America, South America and Europe work together on a limited number of strategic, directed campaigns to achieve measurable outcomes that will help return our oceans to former levels of abundance. We believe in the importance of science in identifying problems and solutions. Their scientists work closely with our teams of economists, lawyers and advocates to achieve tangible results for the oceans.

Plant A Fish. Founded by third generation Cousteau ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau, Plant A Fish (PAF) mission is to empower communities to become involved with responsible re-planting of key marine species in their local habitats in distressed bodies of water around the world. Kicked off June 7, 2010 with the re-planting of oysters  in the Hudson River, which used to be home to the largest oyster bay in the world. The oyster program will plant a total of 1 billion oysters to re-establish a healthy population in the area. PAF will also re-plant 1 billion sea turtles, 1 million mangroves, and 1 million corals.

Click here for a list of many, many more ocean conservation organizations.

We, the people, can also take action in many ways, large or small. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Urge your senators to pass energy legislation that will prevent future oil spills.
  2. Volunteer to help with the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil spill–contact the government volunteer hotline at 1-866-448-5816.
  3. Urge your Senators to stand up for ocean wildlife and support ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  4. Participate in Blue Marbles to help save the ocean one blue marble at a time through random acts of ocean kindness.
  5. Consume consciously. A lot of garbage ends up in our landfills, but the world’s largest landfill is in the Pacific Ocean. Swirling plastic soup. Not a pretty sight.

Make it a Happy World Oceans Day. If the Gulf news is getting you down, watch this hilarious Lewis Black video clip — gets me every time. [Warning: contains foul language and may cause you to fall out of your chair in a fit of laughter].

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