We are connected to the coast and ocean. Whether or not we are among the over 50% of the population who live within 50 miles of the coast, we are all dependent on our coasts and ocean for our food, health, recreation and jobs. In the USA, more than 180 million people visit the shore for recreation every year and tens of thousands of jobs in fishing, recreation, and tourism depend on healthy, functioning coastal ecosystems.
Planet Earth has one big beautiful ocean. This one ocean and humans are inextricably linked. The ocean covers 71% of our planet and its powerful waves and water energy shape the features of the land. The ocean provides us with many forms of recreation: fishing, diving, walking, surfing, paddling, beach bonfires, sailing, swimming and beachcombing. And, for millennia, our ocean has served as the natural superhighway for trade, transportation and communication.
The health of the ocean is essential to human survival. The ocean is a major source of food, medicine, and jobs. Fish from the ocean currently are the primary source of protein for one in six people on earth. And, nearly a million people in the US have jobs that directly depend on the ocean and that add $12 billion to our GDP. However, while the ocean supports the greatest diversity of life and ecosystems on our planet, it is largely unexplored.
The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate. In fact it is the ocean that makes our planet habitable. Without the ocean as a heat sink, our days would be unbearably hot, and our nights would be freezing cold. The ocean naturally recycles our water and our air, constantly cleaning it for us to use over and again 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, 86% of the water we drink comes from the ocean; and the ocean produces more oxygen than the rainforests. It even absorbs 48% of the carbon that we humans put into the atmosphere. The ocean is the best protection we could hope for. We must be good stewards of this part of our living world.
The overarching threat to the ocean is of course climate change. We cannot stop climate change, but we can reduce the amount by which the planet warms. Aside from the threat of climate change, the biggest direct threat to the ocean is overexploitation of its resources. The public has not yet caught up with these realities and 87% view pollution, and oil spills in particular, as the most challenging threats to the ocean.
The ocean touches everyone and everything. It is essential to life and human survival. We all have a strong, personal connection to the ocean (whether we realize it or not). Protecting the ocean protects our health, our economy, and our children’s future. Together, we can make a difference.