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The health crisis in our oceans we’re overlooking

Oceans concept. Pranab basak, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
A scene from the Bay of Bengal. Image credit: Pranab basak, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Oceans account for the overwhelming majority of the world’s water – 95.6 percent. Around 71 percent of the world’s surface is ocean-covered. The magnitude of this underscores why World Ocean Day is an occasion of critical importance.

Writing for The Conversation, Josep Lluís Pelegrí Llopart understates nothing when he pens a piece headlined “we cannot meet sustainable development goals with a sick ocean.” Llopart, an oceanographer, research professor, and presently director of ICM-CMIMA, emphasises the importance of our oceans in his article. “The oceans regulate all life on our planet: 97 percent of the water on the planet’s surface, the basis of life, is found in the oceans,” he outlines. “Ocean evaporation provides 34 percent of the water that falls over the continents, maintaining life in terrestrial ecosystems. The oceans are also primarily responsible for our planet’s complexity and resilience. Oceans absorb most of the solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface, they help regulate the global climate by absorbing greenhouse gases and accumulate the majority of the nutrients and minerals that make up the circle of life on scales that range from years to millennia.” 

At a time when we weather a climate and environmental crisis of unprecedented magnitude, it is important we safeguard our oceans. Yet we fail to do so. A report published in the Annals of Global Health last year identifies ocean pollution as “widespread, worsening, and poorly controlled. It is a complex mixture of toxic metals, plastics, manufactured chemicals, petroleum, urban and industrial wastes, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical chemicals, agricultural runoff, and sewage. More than eighty percent arises from land-based sources.” Yet the scourge is preventable

“Ocean pollution can be prevented. Control requires deploying data-driven strategies based on law, policy, technology, and enforcement. Prevention of ocean pollution boosts economies, increases tourism, helps restore fisheries, and improves human health and well-being.”

This has dire ramifications. India, in particular, takes a toll from poor ocean health. The Ocean Health Index ranks India 191 out of 221 EEZs (exclusive economic zones). The country faces multifaceted issues when it comes to the health of the ocean, including its sizeable output of plastic waste and the fact that the adjacent Indian Ocean is warming faster than the global average. 

Without standing vigilant against the perilous conditions our oceans face, we risk a substantial environmental catastrophe. As Llopart writes

“The resilience of the oceans also makes them great regulators of anthropogenic (human) impact on the planet, such as global change and climate change. Global change includes pollution, ecosystem degradation and the over-exploitation of natural resources. Climate change covers the increase in the planet’s temperature caused by greenhouse gas emissions, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels. This temperature increase is accompanied by changes in climate patterns, rising sea levels and a greater frequency of extreme weather.”

For a country with a chequered track record at best on handling its environmental woes, and withstanding a number of extreme weather events and susceptibility to vector-borne diseases made worse by the effects of climate change, India must work towards preserving its oceans. A vital part of our global ecosystem, they are too precious to lose. 

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