Every April 22, events are held worldwide to celebrate our planet and raise awareness about threats to environmental health, like climate change and pollution. Many of these efforts tend to have a terrestrial focus. While addressing terrestrial issues and taking action on land are crucial in working towards a sustainable future, don’t overlook the importance of the ocean and its interconnectedness with life on land!
Did you think trees were the main oxygen producers on Earth? Think again: marine life, particularly microscopic “plants” called phytoplankton, produce about 70% of the planet’s oxygen. Further, the ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and contains 99% of the planet’s living space! In fighting to make human activities less harmful to other life on Earth, it makes little sense to ignore the ocean. As the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke put it, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is quite clearly Ocean...”
Recognizing threats to the ocean
Marine pollution is one major threat to ocean life, and an estimated 80% of this pollution comes from terrestrial sources. Much of this 80% is “nonpoint source pollution,” which can include oil from motor vehicles, fertilizers and pesticides from farms, and erosion from deforested areas that gets washed into waterways and the ocean. Other threats to the ocean can be linked back to land activities, too (and not just in coastal areas). People’s demand for certain types of seafood has led to over-harvesting, which alters marine food webs. Climate change and ocean acidification can be traced to high carbon dioxide emissions on land – primarily emissions from electricity and heat generation, transportation, industry, and deforestation.
On Earth Day, whether you are planning or participating in an event or raising environmental awareness in your own way, try to connect actions people take on land to their effects on the ocean. Remind other Earth Day celebrators that the Earth isn’t just land – in fact, it isn’t even mostly land – and use the momentum of Earth Day and Earth Week celebrations to foster excitement for World Oceans Day, June 8! See here for World Oceans Day event ideas and tips.
Beyond “going green” – 48 Days of Blue
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland came up with the “48 Days of Blue” campaign to encourage people to take small daily challenges that relate to ocean health in the 48 days between Earth Day (April 22) and World Oceans Day (June 8). The daily challenge is announced by email every morning. Sample challenges include shortening your shower, unplugging electronics for an hour, and skipping disposable straws. Join the movement for a healthy ocean and a healthy planet by signing up for the challenge here!