Cabrinha Clark

THINK GREEN: Our planet’s health begins and ends in its oceans

Phytoplankton an undervalued superstar that helps us breathe easy

Human health is intricately tied to the health of our oceans and for this reason it is important that we sustain the Earth’s oceans. How are we dependent on the oceans? We need them to help keep climate change at bay, to deliver a wide array of delectable seafood and to provide us with oxygen so we can breathe.

With every breath we take we thank trees for their hard work. But the undervalued superstar that makes more than half of the oxygen we breathe is phytoplankton. These microscopic marine animals float on the surface of our oceans and lakes and use sunlight to perform photosynthesis. In one year alone, phytoplankton removes 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Since the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the ocean’s acidity has increased about 25 per cent. When the burning of fossil fuels and coal became more common, the concentration of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere rose drastically, which led to more carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean.

The oceans are also warming due to increased global temperatures, another byproduct of the industrial revolution. Between the warming of our oceans and the decreasing pH levels, the population of phytoplankton is falling. As this continues, it will cause the CO2 concentration of our atmosphere to skyrocket further and the rate of global warming to accelerate. This is why the acidification of our oceans is such an urgent problem.

The acidification of the water makes the ocean an uninhabitable place for many living things. The shells of many marine animals dissolve, colourful coral becomes bleached with death, and phytoplankton die in the acidic environment. The biodiversity of our oceans will decrease as phytoplankton also supplies the base of the food chain. By disrupting the balance of life in the marine habitat, we will lose a great source of our own food supply as well.

Although many scientists believe ocean acidification is irreversible, there are still many things we can do to fight it. If we drastically reduce our CO2 emissions by burning less fossil fuel, this could result in a healthier marine ecosystem in the future.

Even around your house and in your daily life, you can contribute to preserving our oceans. Limiting your consumption of meat, especially beef, will reduce your carbon footprint drastically because animal agriculture produces 14.5 per cent of all human emissions and beef alone is responsible for half of that.

Being mindful of your gas consumption from driving and heating, and, if possible walk, bike, or use public transport to travel. Also, by supporting companies that use solar panels or renewable energy such as wind, water, and sunlight, you can reduce your personal carbon footprint. If we all make these changes, we will reduce our CO2 emissions and help decrease the acidification of our oceans.

The world’s oceans are also suffering from toxic dumping and plastic pollution. Using non-toxic cleaners without nonylphenol ethoxylates can help reduce your personal impact. For example, you can use environmentally friendly brands, make your own homemade cleaner, and in general be aware of what you pour down your drains.

Limiting your plastic consumption and waste can also contribute to the health of our beautiful oceans. Carrying reusable personal straws, utensils, to-go boxes and, once COVID-19 passes, your own coffee mug, can also lessen your plastic usage.

If you love seafood, the underwater world, and even just breathing, implementing these solutions and acting on climate change can be your individual contribution toward helping save our planet.

Cabrinha Clark is a Grade 11 student at Earl Marriott Secondary. Along with her sister, Miranda, she writes regularly about environmental issues for the Peace Arch News.