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The earliest life forms on earth first appeared in the ocean, while the first terrestrial life migrated from the ocean. Up until now, the ocean keeps on being the most important instrument on preserving life on earth.

The third Friday of May is celebrated as National Endangered Species Day across the globe to raise awareness about endangered species and wildlife. This year, the day falls on May 21st, as it gives us the opportunity to increase our knowledge about wildlife and endangered species and take key steps to save them.

Sustainable consumption and production contributes to healthy ocean life. (Source: Miles Prolevic/Unsplash)

Since the first industrial revolution, earth has lost a great deal of species due to human activities and technological advances. Alas, the industrial development isn’t in accordance with sustainable consumption and production. The modern marine ecosystem now has to pay the price.

Not just for fisheries

More than a great blue carpet that lays beneath the glistening sun, the ocean has an important role to ensure the quality of life on earth; be it in the ocean itself or life on land. Here are the reasons why we need to safeguard its future.

It produces oxygen we breathe

80% of the world’s oxygen is produced by phytoplankton. Yes, you read that right! The tropical rainforest do help on exhanging the carbon dioxide into oxygen, but in reality the ocean processes more oxygen we breathe right now. Phytoplanktons are plant-like microscopic organisms that live within a massive amount in the ocean.

Where the rain forms

The ocean acts like a massive solar panel and distributes the heat around the globe. When water molecules are heated, they exchange freely with the air in a process called evaporation. Ocean water is constantly evaporating, increasing the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain and storms that are then carried by trade winds. The tropics are particularly rainy because heat absorption, and thus ocean evaporation, is highest in this area.

 

If the ocean water evaporates to form rain clouds, then why is rain water not salty? Meteorologist Tom Skilling said on Chicago Tribune, the reason is that only water evaporates from the oceans — pure water and nothing else. Salt and other impurities do not evaporate and instead remain in the ocean, which is why the oceans remain salty. When it is windy over the ocean, spray is whipped into the air, and when the spray evaporates, its load of dissolved salt is left floating in the air. That’s why “sea air” is salty and can rust metal. 

Helps regulate the climate

One way that the world’s ocean affects weather and climate is by playing an important role in keeping our planet warm. The majority of radiation from the sun is absorbed by the ocean, particularly in tropical waters around the equator. Outside of Earth’s equatorial areas, weather patterns are driven largely by ocean currents. Currents are movements of ocean water in a continuous flow, created largely by surface winds but also partly by temperature and salinity gradients, Earth’s rotation, and tides. Major current systems typically flow clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, in circular patterns that often trace the coastlines.

 

Ocean currents act much like a conveyor belt, transporting warm water and precipitation from the equator toward the poles and cold water from the poles back to the tropics. Thus, ocean currents regulate global climate, helping to counteract the uneven distribution of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface. Without currents in the ocean, regional temperatures would be more extreme—super hot at the equator and frigid toward the poles—and much less of Earth’s land would be habitable.

Ocean and its lingering threat

Earth’s temperature had risen naturally in the past before humans, caused by solar cycles, volcanic activity or other climate fluctuations. But since the industrial revolution began, earth is experiencing rapid increase in its average surface temperature. Last year, the oceans were warmer than any time since measurements began over 60 years ago, according to a study published Monday in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

Healthy coral reefs have bright vibrant colors. (Source: QUI/Unsplash)

One of the impacts of the rising temperature is coral bleaching. Healthy corals are bright and colorful because of microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live within the coral in a mutually beneficial relationship, each helping the other survive. The algae make food using sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. They share the food with the coral, and, in turn, the coral gives the algae a safe and sunny place to live. 

But when the ocean environment changes—if it gets too hot, for instance—the coral stresses out and expels the algae. As the algae leaves, the coral fades until it looks like it’s been bleached. They don’t immediately die, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality. If the temperature stays high, the coral won’t let the algae back, and the coral will die.

Aside from the coral bleaching, marine life is facing threats caused by human activities. We haven’t even talked about marine debris, overfishing, and oil spill. By understanding the core problem, we can take part in countering its impact. Every small step counts, all the more reason to do it collectively. So, don’t stop composting, don’t forget to bring your reusables, shop in bulk, go on public transportation, and please don’t get tired of implementing sustainable consumption and production. We’re all in this together!

Written by: Melisa Qonita Ramadhiani

References

Berwyn, B. (2020, January 14). Ocean Warming Is Speeding Up, with Devastating Consequences, Study Shows. Retrieved from Inside Climate News: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/14012020/ocean-heat-2019-warmest-year-argo-hurricanes-corals-marine-animals-heatwaves/

DNA Web Team. (2020, May 15). National Endangered Species Day 2020: History, significance & more. Retrieved from DNA India: https://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-national-endangered-species-day-2020-history-significance-more-2824843

Earth Science Communication Team. (n.d.). What is happening in the ocean? Retrieved from NASA Climate Kids: https://climatekids.nasa.gov/ocean/

Fallahnda, B. (2021, March 19). Apa Penyebab Pencemaran dan Dampak Konservasi Laut? Retrieved from Tirto.id: https://tirto.id/apa-penyebab-pencemaran-dan-dampak-konservasi-laut-gbhK

Hancock, L. (n.d.). Everything You Need to Know about Coral Bleaching—And How We Can Stop It. Retrieved from WWF Page: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/everything-you-need-to-know-about-coral-bleaching-and-how-we-can-stop-it

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). What is coral bleaching? Retrieved from National Ocean Service: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

Ocean Exploration. (n.d.). How does the ocean affect climate and weather on land? Retrieved from Ocean Exploration Facts: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/climate.html

Skilling, T. (2017, September 1). Ask Tom: Why is rain that comes from evaporated ocean water not salty? Retrieved from Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/weather/ct-wea-asktom-0903-20170901-column.html

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