We are half way through our winter season here in the French Alps and are noticing the climate change on our front door – while Athens is shuffling the snow from their streets with spades that have never touched snow before (plus they are expecting snow in the more southern island of Crete!). At the same time the state of Western Australia is facing an “unprecedented situation” as it battles a raging wildfire while millions of residents are under coronavirus lockdown (CNN, 2021). The climat change that we are facing today has even put the Ocean on Fire! This is how Surfers Against Sewage (S.a.S.) word it while they’ve declared an Ocean and Climate Emergency on the 18th of January 2021 (S.a.S.).
The Ocean takes up over 70% of the Earth’s surface, and therefore plays a fundamental role in tackling human-induced climate change.
Overall S.a.S. have stated that overfishing, ocean pollution, overexploitation of certain species, the introduction of invasive species, and ocean acidification and warming have led to the destruction of marine ecosystems. Deep-sea mining and industrial fishing practices have destroyed many seabed ecosystems resulting in the by-catch of thousands of dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds, depleting fish stocks and sending shockwaves down oceanic food webs. (S.A.S)
The destruction of the marine ecosystem is shocking and it’s not only affecting our ability to be nourished by the sea, it’s impact is even more alarming than that. Because the oceans regulate the global climate; they mediate temperature and drive the weather, determining rainfall, droughts, and floods. They are also the world’s largest store of carbon, where an estimated 83% of the global carbon cycle is circulated through marine waters (WWF). It’s incredible how efficient our oceans would be to handle carbon considering that just 0.7% of the world’s forests are coastal mangroves 12, yet they store up to 10 times as much carbon per hectare as tropical forests.
The ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat trapped by the rising concentration of greenhouse gases and over 30% of CO2 emitted from human activity. This has caused dramatic ocean warming, ocean acidification and deoxygenation which is impacting communities and ecosystems across the world.
And this development is not changing for the better. Conservationists warn that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, as of May 2020, was the highest it has been in human history. NASA data show that average global temperatures in 2019 were 1.8 degrees F (0.98 degrees C) warmer than the 20th century average. 3 In fact, the five warmest years in the 1880–2019 record have all occurred since 2015 (Conservation).
The warming of the ocean and rising sea levels
As the ocean is warming up, the sea level rises and this has already been noticed in many coastal communities. And it’s not only the reality for several islands in the pacific, where at least eight islands were swallowed by the sea in the last century. The destruction is happening right here and right now. For example, the Welsh coastal village of Fairbourne will soon be forced to leave their homes due to the threat of sea level rise, becoming the first of the Britain’s climate refugees (The Guardian). Projected sea level rise and extreme weather events could displace almost 200 million people worldwide by 2100, disproportionately affecting those in less-economically developed countries (S.A.S). Indonesia will even have to move its capital city as its current one, with over ten million people, is sinking. Some parts of Jakarta are sinking as much as 25cm per year (Wired, 2019).
The Extinction of Bio Diversity and Coral Bleaching
As coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to extreme warming events, their cover could be reduced to just one per cent of current levels at two degrees Celsius of warming. According to the Living Planet Report 2020 by the WWF more coral reefs are dying off and can no longer offer a healthy ocean habitat for the species that rely on them for food and protection. Scientists estimate if the current rates of temperature increase continue, the oceans will become too warm for coral reefs by 2050 (WWF).
While the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970, freshwater species populations are declining disproportionately faster – by an average of 84% (WWF, 2020).
The Ocean and Plastic Pollution
To make things worse the remaining habitat of the ocean is being polluted by an immense inflow of plastic waste. 12 million tonnes of plastic are pouring into the ocean every year! Plastic has been found in the deepest parts of the ocean, as far away as the Antarctic and across UKs beaches.
This plastic pollution is choking the ocean. Birds, whales and turtles are killed when they mistake plastics for food or when they get tangled in packaging and ghost fishing gear.
And even if our ocean friends manage to separate plastic from their real food chain, they will most likely not be able to bypass Microplastics. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are smaller than five millimetres. These mini plastics are entering into the ocean food chain and a recent study even found microplastics in humans with as yet unknown effects on human health.
The root cause of plastic pollution is the systemic over-production and over-consumption of non-essential single-use, throw away and polluting plastics. The plastic pollution crisis is made worse by our ineffective recycling & waste systems, which cannot process the staggering volume of plastic entering the market every year (S.A.S.).
A reportage about climate change that opens eyes
If you would like to know more about the impact of climate change on the earth we recommend to watch BBC’s ‘Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve’. In the first Episode Simon is revisiting some incredible characters that he’s met while travelling the globe and who tell their stories about climate change.
What can we do?
“One can see from space how the human race has changed the Earth. Nearly all of the available land has been cleared of forest and is now used for agriculture or urban development. The polar icecaps are shrinking and the desert areas are increasing. At night, the Earth is no longer dark, but large areas are lit up. All of this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit. But human demands and expectations are ever-increasing. We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn’t any more available.”Stephen Hawking, Physicist & Author
According to specialists it’s not too late to give up just yet. There are several things we CAN do as individuals. The most obvious step is to work on our ecological footprint and to reduce waste, to recycle more, and to re-use what we can. We can also push our governments to do their part. S.a.S. for example has launched a petition called: Ocean and Climate Petition, which calls on the UK Government to ensure the ocean is at the centre of climate conversations at the 26th UN Climate Conference (COP26) in November. As much as we depend on all blue spaces for our survival, including our mental and physical wellbeing, the ocean now depends on us; and we must come together to shout for the ocean, before it is too late (S.A.S.).
Join the petition here: Surfers against Sewage Ocean and Climate PetitionThank you for reading this article.