Blue Heart Wilderness
WE HAVEN'T SAVED THE WILDERNESS
Yet. Wilderness defined as "the most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure" can only truly be found in the international, unowned, unexplored depths of open Ocean—the true remaining wilderness. It is a wilderness being destroyed by our bad habits: demand for seafood, dependence on single use plastic, and constant unceasing human pollution. Why did everyone I grow up with refer to the Gulf of Mexico as the toilet bowl of America?
Because the seas are treated like a toilet bowl that we can use to magically flush all our sins away.
We reside on this planet with 332.5 million cubic miles of water—96% of it saline. An unfathomable amount of H2O literally surrounds us and is key to every single natural process we know of. Unfortunately, the public focus on deforestation, and other terrestrial locations of CO2 fixation and oxygen production, seems to disregard that marine ecosystems play an equal, and arguably greater, role in global biogeochemical carbon and oxygen cycles. And, since 95% of Ocean is unexplored, there is still much that we don’t understand about marine ecosystems.
The majority of early environmental writers and advocates focused squarely on the preservation of our world’s terrestrial wildernesses. A rare few stand out among them, Rachel Carson for example. Although her role in sparking the modern environmental movement came after her book Silent Spring, which introduced 1960’s America to the perils facing underground seas. The freshwater, terrestrial issues illuminated in Silent Spring quickly overshadowed Carson’s books Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea. Those works revealed for the first time the beauty and biodiversity of Ocean, but like the seas that surround us all, they have been forgotten in time.
Ocean wilderness is not untouched by man as human behaviors are clearly causing ocean acidification, building islands of floating garbage, and killing flora and fauna at both the microscopic and charismatic megafauna level. It is however certainly still widely unknown and unspoken for. How is it possible then that while over 15% of the world’s land is protected, with countless organizations and activists working for more every day, just over 3% of the vast Ocean is being preserved. Of that 3% less than 1% of protected waters include open Ocean, where the tremendous majority of global cycles are at work.
How can we communicate the importance of Ocean to the general public, advocacy groups, and policy makers if the science behind our understanding of Ocean is considered of lesser value when compared to that of terrestrial research? On average marine papers comprise less than 11% of leading conservation biology journal papers and only 8% of the articles in general ecological journals are marine focused, versus 60% being purely terrestrial. That demonstrates a possible inherent bias in what information is being disseminated.
We care for Ocean, and there has been many recent success stories for Ocean conservation. In the past decade the amount of resources contributed by environmental groups to Ocean advocacy has grown far past the appalling 1999 statistic of less than 1%. There is now a new global goal to protect 30% of all Ocean by 2030, several new marine reserves containing open Ocean have been established, and the number of Ocean advocacy organizations has grown considerably. Recent studies have also shown that the public is concerned about the environmental threats concerning the seas.
Efforts to engage the public in Ocean conservation are growing and that’s a good thing.
But, it isn’t enough to like videos of sea jellies and whales on Facebook and Instagram. If we don’t begin to put real effort into conserving marine resources, we are destined to a future of environmental instability and the destruction of an environment intrinsically connected to every human being on the planet.
80% of us live near a coastline, because Ocean feeds our hearts, minds, bellies, and spirits. Even for those that don’t live near a coastline, Ocean nags at our sense of curiosity and wonder. More people visit beaches every year than all of the national parks combined. Yet, our government contributes less than 4% of what they spend on national parks, to maintaining the rolling waves that clearly have a special place in all of our hearts. Ocean connects us to one another and to both the biotic and abiotic process at large on our planet.
We must take the care of Ocean into our own hands and that means: ditching single use plastics (relying less on plastics at all is the ideal), eating less seafood, curbing our detrimental western consumerist attitudes, supporting organizations with holistic approaches to environmental advocacy that focus on marine conservation, voting for politicians that support the creation of marine protected areas, and most importantly, keeping Ocean close to our hearts and thinking of her wellbeing in our daily choices. Can’t do it all? That’s okay. You can do something. One thing. Those one things add up to become the drivers of change in our society.
I find it amusing that the word ‘earth’ often refers to the solid matter of this planet. Dry land. Dirt. Soil. Yet, salt water covers 70% of our planet and contains 97% of its liquid water. The continents were born of Ocean. We were born of Ocean. And like this ground we walk on, we exist at the pleasure of Ocean’s magnificent power. There is a reason planet Earth is depicted as a pale blue dot. A blue marble. So perhaps it should instead be named Ocean, and the term mother Earth changed to mother Ocean.
It is up to us to more clearly communicate both the instrumental and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems. It is up to us to be stronger stewards of the seas. It is up to us to advocate for the mother that bore us and may also one day break us.
Gelcich, Stefan, Paul Buckley, John K. Pinnegar, Jason Chilvers, Irene Lorenzoni, Geraldine Terry, Matias Guerrero, Juan Carlos Castilla, Abel Valdebenito, and Carlos M. Duarte. “Public Awareness, Concerns, and Priorities about Anthropogenic Impacts on Marine Environments.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.42 (2014): 15042-5047.
Kochin, B.F. & Levin, P.S. 2004. Publication of marine conservation papers: is conservation biology too dry? Conservation Biology 18: 1160-1162.
Menge, B.A. et al. 2009. Terrestrial ecologists ignore aquatic literature: Asymmetry in citation breadth in ecological publications and implications for generality and progress in ecology. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 377: 93–100.
“No you’re not paranoid – there is a bias against publishing marine conservation papers.” http://www.southernfriedscience.com/
“Ocean Protection Gaining Momentum, but Still Lags Progress Made on Land.” http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2015/oct/
“Oceans Need Advocacy Too.” http://www.ecojesuit.com/oceans-need-advocacy-too/787/
Stergiou, K.I. & Browman, H.I. 2005. Imbalances in the reporting and teaching of ecology from limnetic, oceanic and terrestrial domains. Marine Ecology Progress Series 304:292–297.
“We’ve been protecting Earth’s land for 100 years. We’re finally starting to protect its oceans.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/09/14/how-protecting-huge-swaths-of-the-ocean-became-the-new-environmental-obsession/