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Why the Ocean Deserves a Day

Posted by Amanda Seide on 06/19/2012

Why the Ocean Deserves a Day

By: Amanda Seide, Aquatic Animal Technician

Much of the ocean is still a mysterious and uncharted territory. Currently we know more about space than what makes up 3/4ths of our world and 97% of all water on earth.  June 8 is set aside internationally as World Ocean’s Day and the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is celebrating this event by sharing our knowledge about ocean conservation issues throughout June. The ocean was once thought to be so vast that it was unchangeable and nothing we did would harm it. Through pollution, coastal development, and overfishing, we are damaging our reefs, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, and fish populations. The temperature and levels of our oceans are slowly rising. Worldwide, two thirds of our population currently lives within 50 miles of a coastline. While this should be an immediate concern for people living in these areas, changes in the ocean will affect all life on the planet no matter where it occurs. 

The ocean does more for life than most people give it credit for. It provides most of the oxygen we breathe, soaks up half of the carbon pollutants we produce, contains not only a source of food capable of feeding the world but also provides ingredients for  medicines, creates weather, and is an essential part of our global economy. While we may not be able to count every fish in the sea, guidelines are being created to ensure sustainable fish populations for future generations. Many people still assume that there is an endless supply of fish in our oceans. This is simply not true. As our population increases and fishing methods have changed, half of our commercial stocks are already being fished to capacity and another fourth are being seriously depleted. Fisheries most affected are cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and swordfish.  While fisherman fight over rights to the sea to protect their livelihood, we can help by making good choices when deciding which fish to purchase at our local markets or when ordering off local restaurant menus. Close to 90 million tons of fish are caught annually, and a quarter of that is discarded as bycatch. Bycatch is defined as marine creatures that are caught unintentionally in the nets while fishing for other species, and can include animals such as sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea birds. The expansion of fish farming, also known as aquaculture can help decrease what is being taken from the sea. However, it can only be sustainable if it focuses on raising plant-eating fish such as carp, catfish, and tilapia. In 2000, aquaculture was responsible for ¼ of all the seafood we consume. Still we must be careful about our choices, because methods used to raise many carnivorous fish may be responsible for the collapse of populations of other fish species when they are ground up and used for feed. These methods are constantly evolving and improving and many of these operations are monitored by programs such as NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Office of Aquaculture. There are many international organizations working together to form agreements that will help strengthen conservation initiatives and create better fishery management guidelines.

As awareness is raised, the numbers and ranges of marine protected areas are increasing.  In 1975, the United States created its first marine reserve in California, La Jolla Cove. And since then, the nation has created 13 more sanctuaries including The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary which was created in 1990. Marine protected areas protect productive sea floor habitats and restore coral reefs as well as fish stocks. The oceans are calling for a worldwide expansion of protected areas. The beauty and biodiversity of the ocean rivals that of the rain forest. We need to focus on the health of the ecosystem and sustainability so that we may protect and restore our world’s oceans.

The Oklahoma City Zoo has a strong commitment to conserve many of our planet’s animals and places. Increasing awareness about the challenges our ocean’s face is the first step in conserving them.  One way our Aquatics team is helping to conserve our oceans is by raising some of our exhibit animals. We are working with other zoos and aquariums to acquire aquarium raised animals and learning how to raise these animals on our own. Currently, we are raising cuttlefish and seahorses! Through team efforts and programs such as this, we are able to share these fascinating creatures with everyone without removing them from the wild.

Currently, 36 million people depend on wild fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods. There are 320,000,000 square miles of oceans that need our attention, and it is time we all take action before the imbalance is so severe it cannot be reversed.  Decisions we make every day can affect the health of our oceans, from our food choices to the materials and products we choose to use to the way we dispose of them.

For more ocean-protecting resources:

Clown FishCuttlefish EggsSeahorse

Photo Credit (from left to right): Gillian Lang, Amanda Seide, and Gillian Lang

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