By Katreena Sarmiento
Climate change is among the primary threats to the future of humanity, and while there have been significant breakthroughs in our efforts to reverse it, we still have a long way to go. Nearly 75% of people in the most advanced economies of the world see climate change as the top global threat, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Data from the same study also show that there is little confidence about the efforts being undertaken by the international community to reduce the effects of climate change.
Solving the problem of climate change isn’t going to happen overnight. Achieving net-zero CO2 emissions might be daunting, but it can be argued that the heart of the solution to climate change is the ocean.
How the ocean affects the world and all of us
About 71 percent of the Earth is covered with water, and 96.5 percent of that water is the ocean. Life on land is only possible through the ocean as it provides half of the Earth’s oxygen, fuels the water cycle, and contributes significantly to the carbon cycle. The ocean supplies fresh water and fish that billions of people depend on for protein. What happens when something as important as the ocean gets polluted? Only catastrophe.
The ocean becomes more acidic as it absorbs more carbon dioxide than usual. This decrease in pH level hinders the ability of marine creatures to develop the shell and skeleton structures they need to survive. The acidity has adverse effects on plankton, coral reefs, oysters, and other aquatic organisms. Ultimately, it sabotages the ecosystems that protect the coastline.
Decrease in oxygen levels
Global warming increases the temperature of ocean surface waters, resulting in less ocean mixing that would help push oxygen from the surface to the deep. Less oxygen gets to deeper waters, suffocating many marine creatures or forcing them to migrate.
Heatwaves in the ocean are less noticeable than those we experience on land, but they can be just as disruptive to marine ecosystems. The temperature shift caused by heatwaves happens rapidly, leaving marine creatures no time to adapt. We will see more marine heatwaves as ocean temperatures rise.
Loss of sea ice
Weather patterns around the world are greatly influenced by sea ice. The surface of ice reflects sunlight and heat into the atmosphere, but ice has been melting due to rising atmospheric temperatures. Without sea ice, the ocean absorbs more heat, increasing its temperature, melting more sea ice, and so on.
The ocean’s role in solving climate change
The ocean is a key player in reversing climate change. It absorbs heat and carbon dioxide, but it’s been largely neglected by researchers and policymakers. Fortunately, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report released last 2019 has helped put the ocean in the center stage of climate change action.
The IPC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate rounds up scientific research on how rising carbon emissions affect marine and coastal communities. The report implies that changes in the ocean and cryosphere will affect the entire world.
The report highlights the urgency and importance of prioritizing timely, large-scale, coordinated efforts to address never before seen changes in the ocean and cryosphere. In addition, it unveils the benefits of significant efforts and effective adaptation for sustainable development; and the increasing cost of delaying them.
How ocean-focused solutions can fight climate change
Prioritizing climate change action on the ocean allows us to mitigate the effects of climate change while we start transitioning zero-emission practices. Improving ocean health means healthier marine ecosystems that absorb significant volumes of carbon, offsetting emissions. The ocean also offers renewables such as offshore wind energy that might also contribute to reducing carbon emissions.
If the ocean is healthier, it can be more adaptive and resilient from the effects of climate change. Moreover, a healthier ocean means people will become more adaptive and resilient, as well. A dependable ocean allows for adaptation planning to help determine alternative livelihoods, food sources, and effective efforts in modifying ocean ecosystems. This adaptation makes local and global communities more prepared for the impacts of climate change.
We might not be able to restore the ocean to its most optimal state immediately, but we can help it endure. Protecting the ocean allows marine ecosystems to be more resilient towards acidification, reduced oxygen, and increased temperatures, so they can remain a reliable source of resources we need for survival.
Healthy marine and coastal ecosystems are essential in strengthening our resilience to climate change impacts. These ecosystems can provide us with natural defences that can mitigate storm surges and extreme weather events. And, by extension, improve our capability to defend critical infrastructure and communities.
Combating climate change is a collaborative effort. Working together isn’t a luxury that enhances our ability to adapt and respond; it’s a necessity that gives us a fighting chance. We’ve seen large strides when it comes to international collaboration, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. In the meantime, the best use of our combined efforts is to prevent further damage to our ocean and help it endure.
Top Image: Source