Regeneration – Oceans

Hawken starts discussing ecosystems in the Oceans. What follows is a summary of items he raises. It is pretty complete but there’s always something new surfacing regarding how we can end the climate crisis in one generation.

You might find this to be all doom and gloom but in fact, there are many ways to regenerate the oceans which you’ll learn about more in future articles than this one. It sounds oversimplified but it starts with two actions:

  1. Prevent the degradation, polution, and acidification through Protection and stop using the oceans as a dump.
  2. Create Marine Protected Areas.

Perhaps it is our inability to see more than a few meters into the depths of the oceans or that most of us only view the oceans from pristine and beautiful beaches but either way human activity is having more of a negative impact on the oceans than on any other ecosystem. Ironically almost ten percent of humanity depends directly on the fisheries for their livelihood and at least three billion people have diets where twenty percent of their protein is from the oceans. Few are aware of how quickly the oceans are deteriorating due to global warming and rampant pollution.

  • Our oceans are failing because of rising temperatures, acidification, predetory overfishing, and unchecked polution both chemical and plastics. I remember years ago being in New York city and watching massive bardges being towed out to sea filled with garbage that was to be dumped offshore. In Halifax, I don’t think we ever dumped garbage directly into the ocean but our city dump was located in the north end of the city on the shores of Bedford Basin. It is easy to conclude that toxins and heavy metals found their way into the Basin and were flushed out to sea. it is only in recent decades that raw sewage is no longer released directly into the ocean. Our sewage treatment facilities opened in 2008. Prior to then, all sewage went directly into the Harbour to be flushed out to sea with the changing tides.

    Our stormwater systems still just channel rainwater, snow-melts, and salt-ladened street runoff to the sea without any treatment. In theory this is okay and I suspect no problem most of the time. However, there are still people who will empty paint and other toxic products into city drains as a way to dispose of old and outdated products.
  • Without a doubt, our oceans are the largest carbon sinks on the planet containing ten times more carbon than the land and forty-five times more carbon than the atmosphere. Our oceans are absorbing ninty-three percent of the increased atmospheric heating and twenty five percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. This raises the water temperatures and in turn results in acidifictation.

    The impact of acidificatation is to lower the pH in seawater which removes carbonate ions (whatever they are) that are essestial for many organizims to build shells. This includes several species of phytoplankton that are know to sequester carbon.

    The oceans have reached their limit to continue as carbon and heat sinks and the balanced process where carbon emmisions roughy equal carbon absorbsion. An outcome we can all see are the global heat waves, forest fires, and drought. And we are tracking temperatures well beyond any previous extreme levels throughout recorded history.

    In 2020, a patch of the ocean equal in size to the Canadian land mass stretched west from California with temperatures that were 7°F warmer than usual. A direct consequence is a reduction in forage fish populations. This iproved to be the start of a domino effect where loss of their primary food source (forage fish) resulted in mass strandings of seabirds and marine mammals.

    As well, increased temperatures leading to acidificatation causes coral bleaching. This is a condition where coral expells algee. Coral can survive that action over a short period of time but only if temperatures return to normal. This is not the trend we’re seeing today. The Coral is dying.
  • There is no question that our oceans have become the largest storehouse of pollution especially platics from land-based sources and marine use. This includes shipping, fishing, drilling, and direct dumping.

    Our costal waters are loaded with indusrial chemicals, petroleum, fraking waste, agricultural runoff, pesticides, pharaceuticals, both raw and treated sewage, heavy metals, and street waste from urban runoff. It is estimated that twelve million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans annually, and the short and long term impacts are just starting to be understood. I recall seeing a documentary last year where a number of fish were taken out of Lake Ontario. Okay that’s not an ocean but I think the point is the same. Every single one was loaded with microbeads used in persoanl care items such as cleansers and exfoliants. You don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to realize that microbeads are entering the food chain and untimately end up on our diner plates.
  • The oceans and the atmosphere are tightly aligned so any impact on one impacts the other. Hawken points out that in the polar regions the water is colder and can disolve more carbon dioxide; it is also saltier and denser. He describes a process called deepwater formation where the dense carbon dioxide rich water can sink to the parts of the ocean where natural currents move that water and the carbon dioxide contained within to all corners of the planet. These currents are absolutely saturated with interconnected life that consumes, cycles, and eventually sequesters the carbon dioxide.

    What I think is important to understand is that the phytoplankton living at the surface are the first to consume carbon dioxide and through the process of photosynthesis, these microscopic plants use sunlight to combine water and carbon dioxide. This becomes one foundation of our complex food chain. Phytoplankton are a food source for everything from microscopic zooplankton (whatever that is) to shrimp and fish. Smaller animals become the food for larger ones and the carbon is cycled through the movement of marine life to all oceans and every corner of the planet.

    While all marine creatures contain carbon, phytoplankton store more carbon, by comparison to other forms of life in the oceans. Scientists estimate that they hold 0.5 – 2.4 billion tons. This value is roughly equal to the total amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by all the trees, grasses, and other land-based plants on the planet combined.

    Even though most phytoplankton are consumed by other marine creatures, a small but important fraction dies, sinks, and be part of the long-term carbon sequestered in the sediment of the ocean floor. Even though tiny, phytoplankton account for almost all of the carbon transfer to the deep ocean. This is a crucial long-term process of carbon removal from the oceans and the atmosphere.

    Human activity, resulting in the increas of atmospheric and ocean temperatures is the cause of this ecosystem failure but Regeneration provides us with mutiple ways we can avoid a catatrophic collapse. It only requires Protection and a global committment.
  • In addition to phytoplankton, marine animals are essential in cycling carbon through the oceans. They build it up in their bodies through the food they consume and release it when they breath, defecate, and die. Large species like whales accumulate huge amounts of carbon in their bodies and at death, they sink and to the depths so much of that is sequested in the sediments. Given that human activity weakened whale populations close to distiction, an obvious outcome is the distrution of that process.

    It is important to note that when massive marine animals defecate, the nutrients and carbon released feed all the small marine creates at the bottom of food chain. Those small creatures in turn contribute to a future removal of carbon from the oceans and the atmosphere while expanding the cycle of life in the oceans. We are negatively impacting all those natural cycles which have thrived for millions of years and are now failing after just a few decades of human activity.
  • Currently most of the attention on the oceans is on Protection which is clearly a good start. It can prevent the degradation, pollution, and acidification which continues to increase annually so clearly our current effort is falling short of what is needed. With that said, Regeneration offers approaches to improving protection while serving the needs of humanity. The emerging trends, given oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, suggest there is huge potentential to reverse the past damage. An immediate action is to stop using the ocean as a dump.
  • The most important second step is the creation of marine protected areas where expanses of the ocean prohibit human activities such as fishing, mining, drilling, and other forms of exploitation. There is important evidence which demonstrates when key areas are set aside, fisheries rebound, not just within the borders of the Marine Protected Area but in the surrounding waters and beyond. Reduced human activities in the Marine Protected Areas result in more fish, kelp, phytoplanktin, and shellfish as the natural process of Regeneration is allowed to thrive unhindered by man.

    This is a win-win model for humanity and the oceans.
Cultivators, Farmers, and Stewards of the Sea

The best news is there is growing support to have humanity return to the sea as cultivators, farmers, and stewards. An improved relationship with ocean systems regeneratively will sequester carbon while feeding billions of people in a sustainable way into the future. There is huge potential that we can regenerate the oceans within one generation.


What’s Coming

  • Marine Protection Areas
  • Seaforestation
  • Mangroes
  • Tidal Salt Marshes
  • Seagrasses
  • Azolla Fern

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