World Oceans Day: Celebration or wake?

Happy World Oceans Day 2012. A day to celebrate the wonder of our amazing blue planet. But can we still celebrate? Just, maybe, but the world's ocean is in a perilous state.

The ocean is dying. This is not some scare story, or exaggeration. We have pushed the marine environment to the brink through overfishing, pollution and acidification. It is not yet too late to stop the rot, but it will be soon. If we do not protect a significant proportion of the world's ocean from all types of damaging activity right now, over seventy percent of the planet may become a biological desert.

Some people have been warning of this crisis for years, but few have listened. If the oceans are to have any hope at all, it is time we all started listening. If we don't, in 20-30 years or so, World Oceans Day may be held as a wake.

We all need to start caring more about the world's ocean and the life it contains. But sometimes we need a little inspiration. To follow are the views of some inspirational people.

"Imagine what people would say if a band of hunters strung a mile of net between two immense all-terrain vehicles and dragged it at speed across the plains of Africa. This fantastical assemblage, like something from a Mad Max movie, would scoop up everything in its way: predators such as lions and cheetahs, lumbering endangered herbivores such as rhinos and elephants, herds of impala and wildebeest, family groups of warthogs and wild dogs. Pregnant females would be swept up and carried along, with only the smallest juveniles able to wriggle through the mesh. Picture how the net is constructed, with a huge metal roller attached to the leading edge. This rolling beam smashes and flattens obstructions, flushing creatures into the approaching filaments. The effect of dragging a huge iron bar across the savannah is to break off every outcrop and uproot every tree, bush, and flowering plant, stirring columns of birds into the air. Left behind is a strangely bedraggled landscape resembling a harrowed field. The industrial hunter gatherers now stop to examine the tangled mess of writhing or dead creatures behind them. There are no markets for about a third of the animals they have caught because they don’t taste good, or because they are simply too small or too squashed. This pile of corpses is dumped on the plain to be consumed by scavengers." Charles Clover, Author, The End of the Line

"The fisheries as a global system have expanded in space. We can compute the expansion rate, and see that it’s coming to an end because there’s no more space to expand into. The expectation that there will always be more fish for us to eat cannot be met. Basically, we have this concept from before that we can expand, we can do more, that the growth can be sustainable—and it’s simply not true. We cannot expand our population and expect that we can produce the food that everybody needs. We cannot expect to increase our consumption of fish and expect that there will be fish for everybody. In the case of fisheries we have overshot already. People think this model can be resolved by eating the right fish, but in this concept there is no right fish: there’s too much fishing of everything." Dr. Daniel Pauly, Fisheries Scientist

"With species loss and food web collapse comes dangerous instability. The seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of species on which it depends. But its influences is far more menacing than simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Overfishing is destabilizing the marine environment, contributing to the spread of anoxic dead zones and the increasing prevalence of toxic algal blooms, for example. Nature's power to bounce back after catastrophes or absorb the battery of stresses humanity is subjecting it to is being eroded, collapsed fishery after collapsed fishery, species by species, place by place. It is easy to point fingers and say this is the fault of greedy corporations with their factory ships, or faint-hearted politicians overeager to please the fishing industry, or the great masses of poor people reduced to bombing and poisoning their seas to extract the last few fish. But blaming others is unhelpful. Every fish and meat eater shares responsibility for the losses, and only by working together can we restore the seas' bounty." Dr. Callum Roberts, Marine Conservation Biologist

"Ten percent of the big fish still remain. There are still some blue whales. There are still some krill in Antarctica. There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet. There's still time, but not a lot, to turn things around." Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer

"We're now in the midst of a third World War, but this time the enemy is ourselves, and the objective is to save the planet from ourselves. There's no hope for masses of humanity to do anything - they never have, they never will. All social change comes from the passion and intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals. Slavery wasn't ended by any government or any institution. Women got the right to vote not because of any government. The civil rights movement, the same thing. India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Again, it's always individuals. You need those individuals with the passion and the energy to get involved. In fact, I don't know of any government or any institutions that are doing anything to solve any of these problems. All over the world, all I am seeing is individuals and non-government organizations that are passionately involved in protecting ecosystems and species." Capt. Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd

"Whatever you want to do in this world, it is achievable. The most important thing that I've found, that perhaps you could use, is be passionate and enthusiastic in the direction that you choose in life, and you'll be a winner." Steve Irwin, Conservationist