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Our PLANET in PERIL UNDERSTANDING the IMPACT of climate change on our OCEANS Author: Bruce Coetzee The lifeblood of planet Earth is water, an element and facilitator of existence for millions of plants and animal species. The water cycle, as we have come to understand it, according to a limited human perspective, incorporates some of the most complex natural arrangements and, in truth, goes far beyond the realisation of what we so easily take for granted concerning our oceans.Unfortunately, in past decades, this narrow view of the significant role these large bodies of water serve has culminated in a fast-track decline in the services rendered by our planet's oceans and subsequently presented the demise of many species. Climate change is devastatingly impacting our oceans, leading to rising sea levels, warming waters, and ocean acidification. Recent stats indicate that over the past century, sea levels have risen by an average of about 8 inches, and they continue to rise at an accelerating rate. This poses a significant threat to coastal communities and low-lying islands.
Warming waters have also caused significant changes in marine ecosystems, leading to coral bleaching, species migrations, and biodiversity loss. Ocean acidification, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, has led to a decline in the growth and survival rates of many marine organisms, including shellfish and coral reefs. Climate change has also led to increased extreme weather events—hurricanes and typhoons are rampant, causing significant damage to coastal communities and ecosystems. The statistics are sobering. According to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, global temperatures have increased by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times and are projected to reach 1.5°C by the early 2030s. This highlights the urgent need for action to address climate change and protect our oceans and marine life for future generations.
While 2023 witnesses the marvel of our explorative endeavours into outer space and gasps in awe as we reach the pinnacle of technological developments in medicine and science, it is with despair that we must now face the aftereffects that have arisen through decades of oceanic mass pollution and ecological destruction.
The global industry, encompassing various sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, and mining, is a significant contributor to water pollution. According to estimates, the industry is responsible for dumping a staggering 300 – 400 million tons (MT) of volatile waste into our water systems every year. This waste takes many forms, including chemical pollutants, heavy metals, and organic waste. These substances can severely impact aquatic ecosystems and the health of people who rely on those ecosystems for their livelihoods. Death from exposure and consumption of unsafe water outweighs those due to violence, including war, annually—a drastic change in any ecosystem results in an imbalance.
When we consider the repercussions of overfishing and agricultural and industrial pollution, not to mention climate change, it is no surprise that our planet's aquifers are in a desperate state. Where traditional fishing methods give way to commercialised fishing fleets, many species we believe to be formally sustainable have now been wiped out. The race for agricultural land and the methods used in expediting production rates to satisfy high food demands finds their way through nitrate runoff into bodies of water that eventually feed into the oceans. Rising temperatures have devastating effects on marine life, and ocean currents have been altered due to the incremental increases, which have transpired as global warning bears its ugly head.
It has been estimated that a staggering 70 to 199 million tons of plastic waste currently sits in our oceans, and a whopping 33 billion pounds enters our marine environments each year. This a sobering reality for us, whose very survival on this planet is based largely on the function of oceanic systems. Habitat loss presents a collapse for not one but many plant and animal species, which without our help, will soon disappear. Human intervention and the need to amend reckless behaviour are at the forefront of an environmental consensus in 2023. We can turn back the tide, saving what's left of our underwater kingdoms. Change begins with a single step, and adopting a conscientious attitude towards resource use and oceanic conservation must be at the forefront of social awareness if we are to rectify mistakes made in the past. We are the trusted custodians of our planet, and the proverbial notion of its survival is dependent on every individual's actions. Join the movement for positive change in 2023, as we all share a responsibility to safeguard planet Earth and our life-giving oceans!