World Oceans Day is the opportunity to consider the vital and essential role of oceans in sustaining life on our blue planet, and to recognise the harm we are doing to marine ecosystems and our climate through human impact.
The ocean has absorbed 93 per cent of the additional thermal energy produced by the rise in greenhouse gases and a quarter of the gases themselves. The five years to 2019 were the five hottest on record for our oceans. This causes ocean acidification and deoxygenation, leading to changes in oceanic circulation and chemistry, rising sea levels and increased storm intensity, as well as changes in the diversity and abundance of marine species.
In 2020 the Great Barrier Reef experienced the third major bleaching event in the last five years, and there is no record of such events occurring before the 1980s. It’s not as well known that in 2011 there was a marine heatwave off Western Australia which had a devastating impact on kelp forests.
Once kelp forests get wiped out like that, they struggle to recover—just as some of the forests that have experienced fires last summer will not return as forests.
It is well and truly time to take better care of our oceans, address climate change, protect marine biodiversity, stop plastic pollution, and establish a sustainable ‘blue economy’. We can do it, but there’s no time to wait.
The science and the evidence are clear. We know that a growing torrent of plastic waste is threatening marine species and we know the dangerous warming of our oceans is occurring now. We have to reduce carbon emissions and help lead global cooperation on climate change. We have to address our woeful record on single-use plastic reduction and plastic recycling.
We already know that marine protected areas work to stop the loss of biodiversity and to improve overall ocean health. Unfortunately the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has presided over the largest conservation reversals in history by dismantling Labor’s comprehensive national marine park network. And they have spent the past seven years actively defunding essential research and unpicking critical measures that aim to prevent further damage to our ocean ecosystems.
We all have a part to play to protect our oceans, but the greatest scope for change is through national leadership – which is sadly absent from a Morrison Government obsessed with removing ‘green tape’ and fighting itself to a standstill of inaction on climate change.