A cursory glance at a globe reveals two obvious facts: the majority of Earth’s surface is covered by water (71%) and there is really only one ocean despite our designation of names to different areas. This interconnectedness of the water that touches the shores of all Earth’s land masses is both a blessing and a problem. A blessing because the richness of the ocean’s resources is shared globally, but a problem because the damage inflicted in one area can affect another. Although the ocean is vast, it is not infinite, and human activity is without a doubt endangering the health of a part of our world that is critically important to human life. We use the ocean as a source of food, we play in it, we use it for transportation of goods and recreational travel. It has spiritual value to people worldwide. As global citizens we have a responsibility to be aware of how our activities and choices impact the ocean.

Greenpeace (greenpeace.org) identifies nine specific threats to the health of the ocean and its wildlife as well as to the survival of indigenous people: whaling, overfishing, factory fishing, bottom trawling, global warming, bycatch, fish farming, pollution and pirate fishing. The World Wildlife Fund (wwf.panda.org) identifies eight areas of concern: unsustainable fishing, inadequate protection, tourism and coastal development, shipping, oil and gas pollution, aquaculture and climate change.

Fish and marine mammal populations have been systematically depleted or wiped out by fishing practices and sophisticated technology. Huge factory ships and the equipment they carry cause irreparable harm to the ocean floor and the marine food chain. Higher ocean temperatures and acidification threaten coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems. Some fish farms pollute waterways, endanger wild species and require unsustainable fishing of small species to feed the farmed fish.

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium website (montereybayaquarium.org) for an informative video presentation entitled “Can the Oceans Keep Up with the Hunt?” that outlines the declines caused by the far-ranging global fishing fleet, discusses issues around fish farming, and identifies more sustainable shellfish and finfish practices.

The World Wildlife Fund lays the blame for marine pollution on land-based activity, either through deliberate dumping or inadvertent leakage or run-off through storm drains and rivers. Major sources of pollution are oil (from marine spills and runoff from cities) fertilizers (which have created vast dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea), solid garbage (e.g., plastic bottles and bags, balloons, packaging material), sewage, and toxic chemicals from common consumer products as well as chemical weapons and radioactive waste.

All this pollution can be carried long distances by ocean currents and pose a threat in more than one way. Not only are marine organisms poisoned by toxic substances, especially fish and mammals at the high end of their food chains, but plastic material is ingested by marine species causing breathing and digestive problems. This toxic load is passed on to people when contaminated seafood is consumed, leading to serious health problems in human beings.

Another threat that has been identified as a concern by marine scientists is noise pollution. Both sudden and loud noises and continuous lower level noise can have an impact on whales and other marine organisms, disrupting life cycles, feeding, communication and socializing. Visit wwf.ca to learn more about World Wildlife Canada’s perspective on this issue.

One way that we can be a part of the solution rather than the problem is to choose mindfully when we eat from the ocean. Seafood that is produced sustainably is available, and reputable organizations can provide information to guide our choices. The Marine Stewardship Council (msc.org), based in the U.K., is a global non-profit organization that sets standards and certifies products that are produced in a sustainable manner. Fisheries, restaurants and food stores accredited by independent certifiers display the MSC ecolabel.

Seafood guides are published to help consumers make educated choices. Ocean Wise (oceanwise.ca), a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program, certifies restaurants and publishes a dining guide. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, home to Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org), makes recommendations to indicate which seafoods are Best Choices and Good Alternatives and which to Avoid because of unsustainable fishing practices. This information is published online and in pocket guides and mobile applications. The David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org) offers a downloadable guide on its website—“Suzuki’s top 10 Sustainable Seafood Picks”—to help consumers make choices in supermarkets and restaurants. The foundation has also partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ecology Action Centre, Living Oceans Society and Sierra Club British Columbia to create SeaChoice (seachoice.org), a sustainable seafood program for Canada. SeaChoice uses science to assess seafood, provides consumer information and supports businesses through collaborative partnerships. It compiles information for Canadians about local fisheries and imported seafood.

Other organizations such as the Georgia Strait Alliance (georgiastrait.org) and the Living Oceans Society (livingoceans.org) on the west coast and the Ecology Action Centre on the east coast, and W WF Canada (wwf.ca) work toward protecting Canada’s marine environment.

Clearly the health of the world ocean is threatened, and the well being of all Earth’s inhabitants will be affected by either further decline or a turn around of the present situation depending on our willingness to change.

Teaching Resources for Ocean Awareness

World Oceans Day – (worldoceansday.org)

World Wildlife Fund (wwf.org) – lesson plans, project ideas and topics for discussion are found by going to “Teachers” under “Our Earth” in the navigation bar.

OceanLInk (oceanlink.info) – marine biology resources including lesson plans, project ideas, marine biology information.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Education Resources (education.noaa.gov) – lessons, activities and links under the headings “Ocean and Coasts” and “Marine Life” in the navigation bar.

National Geographic (education.nationalgeographic.com/) – activities organized by grade level for a wide variety of topics. A website search for “oceans” produces a list of 478 items.

Bridge Ocean Education Teacher Resource Center (marine-ed.org/bridge/) – teaching resources compiled and sponsored by the (US) National Marine Educators Association.

Coral Reef Alliance (coral.org) – a directory of online resources from a number of marine associations.

College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (ceoe.udel.edu) – free and low-cost resources for K – 12 teachers. Go to “K-12 Teacher Resources” under “Get Involved” in the navigation bar.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (ocean.so.edu) – the Educators’ Corner provides activities, lessons and educational resources to bring the ocean to life for your students.

Additional Sources of Information

Oceana (oceana.org) – the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation.

Ocean Networks Canada (oceannetworks.ca) – a not-for-profit society established by the University of Victoria to support ocean discovery and technological innovation. Its NEPTUNE (neptunecanada.ca) and VENUS (venus.uvic.ca) networks of electo-optic cable and instruments provide around-the-clock biological, oceanographic and geoscience observations and images. The networks gather live data and video from seafloor, making them freely available to the world, 24/7.


Diana Mumford
Diana Mumford is the Editor of Canadian Teacher Magazine.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2013 issue.

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