The ocean is a critical component to our global ecosystem, environment, and human society. One of the most important functions of the ocean is its role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Covering more than 70% of the planet’s surface1, the ocean absorbs a significant portion of the carbon dioxide produced by human activates, helping to mitigate the greenhouse effect and prevent global warming. The ocean helps to regulate the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, our seven seas are at risk due to a variety of factors, including pollution, overfishing, and climate change. In this article, we’re going to cover the impact these factors have on our ecosystem and life on earth.
One of the most common forms of ocean pollution is plastic pollution. Currently, there are about 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean.2 Microplastics are very small plastic particles, often smaller than five millimeters. Once they make their way into the ocean, microplastics are being ingested by marine animals, including fish, shellfish, and other seafood. These animals are then consumed by humans, resulting in the transfer of microplastics in the human food chain. While the long-term effects of microplastics on human health are not yet fully understood, some research suggest that they may be harmful, particularly if ingested in large quantitates.3
The ocean is becoming more acidic, and its oxygen levels are declining because of human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, they trap heat and contribute to global warming. A portion of this carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. This process, known as ocean acidification, is causing the pH of the oceans to drop.4 Ocean deoxygenation can have negative impacts on marine life, particularly for species that rely on oxygen to survive.
Overfishing is another major threat to the health of the ocean. Overfishing is the practice of catching more fish than can be sustainably replenished, and it can have serious impacts on marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. When too many fish are removed from a particular area, it can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem and lead to declines in fish populations.5 This can have negative consequences for the animals that rely on fish and shellfish as a food source.
Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are a type of seafood farming technology that can be used to help mitigate the impacts of overfishing. RAS are designed to recycle water and nutrients within a closed system, allowing seafood like shrimp to be raised in a more sustainable and efficient matter. This can be particularly important in areas where wild fish and shrimp populations are declining. In addition, RAS can also help to reduce environmental impacts of traditional commercial fishing methods.
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- 1“How Much Water Is There on Earth? Completed.” How Much Water Is There on Earth? | U.S. Geological Survey, https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth#science.
- 2Fava, M Fava. “Plastic Pollution in the Ocean: Data, Facts, Consequences.” Ocean Literacy Portal, 9 June 2022, https://oceanliteracy.unesco.org/plastic-pollution-ocean/.
- 3“How Much Water Is There on Earth? Completed.” How Much Water Is There on Earth? | U.S. Geological Survey, https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth#science.
- 4 US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Is Ocean Acidification?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, 1 Aug. 2012, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/acidification.html.
- 5 McKeever, Amy, and National Geographic Staff. “How Overfishing Threatens the World’s Oceans-and Why It Could End in Catastrophe.” Environment, National Geographic, 7 Feb. 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/critical-issues-overfishing.