Reflecting on (Un)Sustainable Oceans, August 2016

These days much of the news we read about our oceans is bleak. Every day we encounter grim stories of rising temperatures, toxic seafood, and disappearing ecosystems. But August is ending with a big boost of hope for our oceans: President Obama announced that he will quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument—creating the world’s largest protected marine area. It will be four times the size of California and twice the size of Texas!  

Why is this important?

As Karen Weintraub pointed out recently in her story about a revived coral reef in the Pacific, many of world’s top marine biologists and oceanographers agree: if we can give our oceans' ecosystems a little breathing room they might have more time to adjust and adapt to rapidly shifting conditions brought on by climate change.

For instance, coral reefs are declining for several reasons that include increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, heavy tourism, and pollution. Some of these factors we can’t stop right now. But some, like heavy tourism and pollution, we can. If we allow these ecosystems to adapt to now largely unavoidable changes, by giving them a break from pokes, prods, and plastic, we may just give them a fighting chance to make it through these unprecedented times.

On the flip side, some things are happening that we can’t stop, but we can prepare for. That’s why I’m thankful for the work done by Rita Colwell and her colleagues highlighted in this National Geographic piece. Colwell’s research is smart. She looks at the data to find patterns. These results will help us anticipate what’s around the corner and allow us a chance to find proactive solutions to reduce impacts and prepare responses. Even if we are not able to stop rising levels of Vibrio, we can use the data to help us avoid eating shellfish when it is toxic and prevent severe cases of illness and even death.

We may not be able to restore our oceans to their previous health immediately, but if we are to achieve this at all, we must start now. Just as much as we are the cause of these adverse impacts to our oceans, we can be the solution.  

If you’re as happy as I am about the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument, take a second to thank President Obama via The Ocean Conservancy's great website.


Dominique Barnes, Founder and CEO