Too late to save the oceans?

The Big Question

It’s been coming up in conversation a lot recently: “Is it too late to save the oceans?”

Perhaps the Professor would answer it…

Greenwich University

With that question in mind, a crisp evening not too long ago saw me travelling twenty-one stops on the tube and Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich University. I was attending a lecture by Visiting Professor Steve Fletcher PhD, of the United Nations Environment Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre!

The lecture title? “The Future of the Ocean: Health, Wealth and Biodiversity”.

But first – the Cutty Sark!

But before hunting down the proper lecture hall, a quick moonlight inspection of the Cutty Sark.  This magnificent tea clipper was built in 1869 and recently restored at a cost of £46m following extensive damage caused by fire.

As I studied her pitched, sweeping hull, her proud masts with their triangulated rigging, I wondered at the state of the ocean when she raced back with tea from the Americas and wool from Australia.

She launched just seven years after Alexander Parkes demonstrated plastic (or “Parkesine”, as he named it) at London’s Great International Exhibition in 1862. With the arrival of steam power, the great ship was soon rendered obsolete. I wonder if Mr Parkes ever imagined the benefits and damage later iterations of his invention would bring.

Greenwich University

Greenwich University—a maritime tradition, a maritime lecture

Once inside the spacious lecture hall, I noticed that the attentive audience (to my untrained eye) contained many students and I spoke to one, well into his doctoral thesis on the oceans, who’d attended my alma mater, Oxford.

$190 billion per year

Then the professor started, by painting a rather grim picture.

Did you know that the global seafood industry is worth $190bn but only 6.4% of the ocean is protected? If fish were people, the equivalent is that every one of us would be carrying half a kg of plastic in our stomachs.

The professor discussed illegal fishing (and the link to people and drug trafficking), pollution, the cruise industry, and the damage caused by a host of other human activities. 70% of the Great Barrier Reef has now been lost.

Ghost fishing

One slide of four turtles drowned by a discarded fishing net (known as “ghost fishing”), was particularly upsetting. We were reminded of the 1992 “Warning to Humanity” by 1,700 scientists of where we were headed if things didn’t change. And all this was supported by a series of well-chosen slides.

The professor isn’t alone…

But there was good news too. Teams of politicians and NGOs, often enabled by the UN, are now meeting around the world to agree protocols, set targets, honour commitments.

…even the white spotted wedge fish is on side!

Important (for a variety of reasons) species—such as the white spotted wedge fish—are now targeted for special conservation attention. I admit I had to google that one when I got home, to discover I knew it as the guitarfish I’ve seen on occasion resting on the sand in tropical shallows.

Opinion leaders, and the not-for-profit sector are finally being heard. The general public is beginning to wake up with economic, social, political and wellbeing issues associated with the ocean at the top of the agenda. And things are beginning to happen about plastic: the UK’s consumption of plastic carrier bags has dropped 85% since the introduction of a 5p tax per bag. Make it £5, I say, and do the same with plastic coffee cups and drinking strays!

…back to the Big Question

Asked at the end whether he thought it was too late, the professor answered that he’s an optimist, and thinks we can turn this situation around. He explained that the time has come to embrace the environment and treat it as a partner.

The old model of human activity necessarily causing environmental damage should be changed to one in which there’s a mutuality. Protect the ocean and we’ll all benefit. That makes sense to me. And no doubt to white spotted wedge fish too.

3 things you can do to help save the oceans:

  • Buy a re-usable thermos for all your water, tea and coffee purchases…and remember to take it with you!
  • Use tinfoil instead of cling film (Saran wrap) in the home
  • Join a plastic clean up group. Here’s the one I chose and highly recommend if you’re in the area: https://www.thames21.org.uk/

 

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