The ocean is essential to everyday life: it produces a large portion of our oxygen, it holds most of the world’s water, it is essential for many businesses to make a profit, and much more. The bottom line is that all form of life, including humans, would not be able to survive without the ocean. That is why it is humanity’s responsibility to keep the ocean healthy. With the substantial power that the ocean possesses comes a lot of controversy due to the conditions it has gone through over the years. From its early formation during different periods to its current degradation from carbon emissions, the future of the ocean will include an abundance of pollution, extinction in species due to overfishing, thermal expansion from global warming, and more toxins from offshore drilling.
To get a better understanding of the future of oceans, it is important to know its brief background; specifically, how it was formed in different periods. The ocean itself has been around for billions of years. It has had a lot of ups and downs: there has been periods where life sparked and other periods where it has been demolished. A global reef team that focuses on its collection of biogeochemical data from coral reefs and open water ecosystems provides great examples of these inconsistent trends in an article, as it states, “About 435 million years ago, as the supercontinent, Pangaea, was beginning to form, and the circulation of the world’s oceans were being affected by drifting land masses, an ice age began. Sea levels and ocean temperatures dropped significantly as glaciers grew” (Coral Reef). This mainly is caused by changes in the environment. However, about 25 million years later, reefs started to form in huge quantities; but then another 60 million years after they disappeared again. This trend would continue for quite a long time and proves the inconsistent pattern of the ocean during its existence. These time periods played a significant role in the ocean that we know today.
The Current State
Where the ocean currently stands is that is suffering severely from carbon emissions. Through a variety of human activities, the amount of carbon emissions absorbed by the ocean and dumped into the atmosphere has reached an all-time high by a big margin. As the carbon dioxide enters the ocean, it dissolves to create what is known as carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is the cause of the recent increase in ocean acidification. The effects of this can be very devastating in many ways: for starters, it takes away molecules and ions needed for primary producers to get their nutrients. If they are not able to receive their nutrients, then entire food webs can be destroyed and in result kill many organisms. An article made by marine scientists titled “CO2 and Ocean Acidification: Causes, Impacts, Solutions” provides information on this topic as it states, “Carbon pollution is changing the ocean’s chemistry, slowing its ability to uptake CO2, making it more acidic, and harming shellfish and other marine life we depend on.” It is evident that organisms will continue to be distressed if the ocean acidification continues. Also, molecules that are comprised in elements, most notably calcium, are essential building blocks for organisms to build their skeletons which they need for their offspring to survive. In addition, carbon emissions are causing the ocean to get significantly warmer which can make it more difficult for species to bounce back. An example of this could be corals being unable to recover from coral bleaching as a result of warmer water; algae becomes unavailable which leaves the coral more vulnerable. If this continues, more coral reefs will begin to disappear. This decline in the ocean due to carbon emissions will also cause the economy to suffer as tourism will decrease, less resources will be available, and many people may lose their job. This summarizes the current state of the ocean and more major consequences could be coming our way in the future if nothing is changed.
Beginning with the future of the ocean, one of the most feared scenarios is the abundance of plastic pollution that may be present. It is obvious that plastic pollution is a very bad thing as it will harm not just the ocean, but also Earth as a whole. This puts our entire existence into jeopardy. An article, made by an ocean research team, states, “We estimated that today, in 2020, between 24 and 35 million metric tonnes (Mt) of plastic waste was entering the aquatic environment on an annual basis” (Predicting the Future). This research team predicts that even if huge changes were to occur worldwide, around 53 Mt would still be projected to leak into the ocean. This presents a true danger and a challenge that needs to be addressed. Some potential solutions to ease the damage includes reducing plastic use, improving the way we dispose plastic, and working together to clean up the planet. In order to prevent the ocean from becoming filled with plastic, it will take a group effort to step up.
Additionally, the future of the ocean organisms is not looking great due to overfishing. Over time, more fishermen have been catching large quantities of fish all at once, thus making it virtually impossible for fish to breed and recover from their losses. This has already begun and is on pace to completely wipe out valuable fish species from existence. An article that discusses the future of the ocean states, “Around 60% of the world’s studied fish are fully exploited and 30% are overexploited, according to the SOFIA 2016 report, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization” (Koop). This colossal number clearly proves the damage that is being done; and if no actions are taken to stop this, then it is inevitable that fish species around the world will become extinct. Fish are extremely valuable as they contain nutrients within their bodies that get transported and make life possible. Not to mention the loss of fish would put jobs in risk, cause people to starve, and even aid in human health problems. Again, unless people step up and work together to decrease the overfishing numbers, then the future of the ocean’s inhabitants is not looking too promising.
Moreover, an arising issue with the ocean is thermal expansion. This occurs when heat trapping greenhouse gases, which is also a cause of global warming, get absorbed by the ocean causing it to expand and to increase in volume: thus, sea level will rise. Similarly to the other focal points on the future of the ocean, thermal expansion is a result primarily from human activity. The ocean is continuing to become more acidic and losing a ton of oxygen, making it much harder for organisms to survive. An article that gathered information directly through ocean research organizations titled, “State of the Ocean Will Ultimately Determine the Survival of Our Species” states, “Meanwhile the ocean is warming, causing marine life to move away from traditional habitats, adding to coral’s existing challenges, and leading to the rising sea levels that threaten to inundate atoll countries, low-lying coasts and river deltas around the world.” On a more positive note, there is a bit of hope as scientists are working hard to do research on this issue in order to inform the public and begin getting involved in order to save the valuable ocean. Advancing technology is not only going to help this issue but also help learn more about the huge body of water that is comprised on this planet. However, at its current state, the future of the ocean will consist of the sea level rising due to thermal expansion.
One more concept that will present itself as a part of the future of the ocean is offshore drilling. Offshore drilling is a process where petroleum is extracted beneath the ocean. This will lead to oil spills in the ocean and toxins released into the air. This is perspicuously bad for the environment, including the oceans. On top of the already devastating results caused from plastic pollution, offshore drilling provides even more toxic pollution to be released. An article made by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, titled “Ocean Threats”, provides some information and statistics on the future of the ocean: it states, “On average, spills from platforms, pipelines, tankers, and coastal facilities release 157,000 barrels of oil every year. This poses an unjustifiable risk to the Bay, our coasts, and the economy.” This impact of offshore drilling also connects to the other issues as this can similarly have a direct impact on climate change. We will be wasting more non-renewable resources when we should instead be using renewable resources. Some problems that may be heading our way include more intense storms (due to the increased pollution), warmer water, water with less oxygen (which will lead to the increase in dead zones), warmer global temperature, and sea level rise. Once again, another problem caused by humans that threatens the future of the ocean. This can be controlled better but not without humanity working together to make it stop.
Today, the carbon emissions being released into our ocean are destroying any hope of conserving the beautiful and valuable treasury given to us on Earth. Since the ocean’s formation in the past, it has proven to be vital in a functional society: it helps the economy, it provides minerals, elements, and nutrients necessary for both humans and other organisms to survive, it regulates the weather, and it makes up most of our entire planet. The future of the ocean is likely to include a colossal amount of plastic pollution, a significant decrease and potential extinction in important organisms due to overfishing, sea level rise caused by thermal expansion, and many toxins and oils spilled into the ocean due to offshore drilling. It is fair to assume that most people are in favor of protecting our ocean. While it will take a collective effort, it is possible just by simply taking action such as picking up any litter around or even spreading awareness and informing others on the danger of the future of the ocean. Any small deed will positively contribute to a healthier future ocean.
“CO2 and Ocean Acidification: Causes, Impacts, Solutions” UCSUSA, 30 January 2019, https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/co2-and-ocean-acidification#:~:text=Carbon%20pollution%20is%20changing%20the,end%20of%20the%20preindustrial%20era. Accessed 19 April 2021.
“Coral Reef History” Global Reef Project, 01 January 2010, http://globalreefproject.com/coral-reef-history.php. Accessed 19 April 2021.
Koop, Fermin. “2020 Will Shape the Future of the Oceans.” Maritime Executive, 24 January 2020, https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/2020-will-shape-the-future-of-the-oceans. Accessed 19 April 2021.
“Offshore Drilling” CBF, 8 March 2018, https://www.cbf.org/issues/offshore-drilling/index.html. Accessed 19 April 2021.
“Predicting the Future of Plastic Pollution and Why Cleanup is Part of the Solution” The Ocean Cleanup, https://theoceancleanup.com/updates/predicting-the-future-of-plastic-pollution-and-why-cleanup-is-part-of-the-solution/. Accessed 08 April 2021.
“State of the Ocean will ‘ultimately determine the survival of our species’: UN Special Envoy” News, 08 January 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/01/1081742. Accessed 19 April 2021.