Crumpling Oceans, Like Dominos Falling


Charmaine Coimbra

Dominos.  It’s like 150 years of stacked dominos collapsing in four directions from Rugby, North Dakota, North America’s geographical center and from every geographical center of every continent on Planet Earth—with the final dominos landing in every sea that touches every continent.  Collapsing dominos. That’s how I envision the condition of our seas today.

In other words, our trash, our chemicals, our plastics and our carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels–even those from each continent’s center–eventually fall into  our seas.  One can argue that landfills and dumps hold a substantial amount of our trash and plastics, but carbon emissions drop into the big heat sink—the ocean.

Even while I write this, an electronic beep just announced an incoming email titled: Declining Plankton:  The Latest Sign of Climate Woes.  Increased marine dead zones  are another subject of incoming mail.

So while the climate change subject batters about in political debate, the proof is in the plasticy-pudding, or your local plastic-polluted ocean.

Considering 71% of the planet is ocean, oceanic health determines the health of terra firma and the rest of us.  It’s that simple. The ocean’s health does and will impact everyone who does or does not read this blog.  The impact may go beyond the oxygen produced from the oceans that we use in every other breath we take.

C. Coimbra photo

Doomsday reporting doesn’t work for me, however, I wish to remind, not only myself and my family and friends, but readers who stumbled upon Neptune911, that our consumptive actions affect our seas whether we are near or far from sunny beaches.  In other words, much of this steamy acidic plume from coal-fired power plants operating around the globe sinks into the sea.  Other fossil fuel emission sources just pile on the carbon dioxide and have consequently changed the ocean’s acidity by 30 percent.

So how about those islands of plastic and trash out in the sea?   The Sea Education Association (SEA) was federally funded this year to research plastic debris accumulations in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Scientists, students, mariners and journalists sailed aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer.  The nearly 4,000 nautical mile research cruise collected and mapped all but the eastern boundary of the Atlantic’s region of high plastic concentration.

David M. Lawrence  wrote daily journals about the expedition.  After disembarking the SSV Corwith Cramer, Lawrence answered some of my questions about the cruise.

I asked, “What’s the good news you bring back from the Plastics at Sea 2010 Expedition?”

Lawrence:  About the only good news is that SEA data indicate the amount of plastic at the ocean surface hasn’t changed — in the Atlantic, at least — in the past two decades despite the fact that ever-increasing amounts of plastic are ending up in the waste stream. We don’t know, however, whether or not that means there is no increase in plastic entering the oceans, or if there are processes that remove it from the ocean surface (biofouling and subsequent sinking, for example).

Lawrence was up close and personal with data collection, and so I wondered, “You make a hypothetical move to Small Town, Mid America (literally mid-geographical America).  When you discuss your time on the expedition with your next door neighbor you notice his eyes glazing over because he does not understand the relevance of a sea of plastics thousands of miles from his home to his daily life . Besides, he has enough to worry about at home.

Is there one fact (or more) that you would present to help flip the relevance-switch on about the importance of healthy oceans to your land-locked neighbor?”

Lawrence: I hope this would get his attention: “Hey buddy, you’re breathing. Thank the oceans for that, because microscopic marine life makes much of the oxygen that keeps you alive. If we continue to pollute the oceans, and poison that life, our mere existence will be harder to ensure.”

From my experience, it seems like incoming science majors don’t view the marine sciences  as sexy (or high paying) as technology or engineering sciences.  So I asked Lawrence, “How can marine scientists help informal educators, like marine environment docents,  marine volunteers, or writers and bloggers inspire a new generation of marine researchers?”

Lawrence:  Make time available for communicating with the public or with those whose job is to communicate with the public. Learn to speak in plain language rather than jargon. And remember — and more important, remember to share — the sense of wonder and curiosity that inspired you to study the oceans in the first place.

Obviously, I’m fishing for cures and resolutions to public apathy and communicating the relevance of unhealthy oceans to our over-populated world.  I wish to help change the tide of scientific opinion that “We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are reaching tipping points,” as noted by John Bruno, an associate professor of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during an interview with Les Blumenthal for McClatchy Newspapers.

Throughout our planet’s history climate change has crossed all boundaries.  The changes come and go. The oceans absorbed and the tides continued rising and dropping.  This change, however, is not from a few rogue volcanoes or visiting meteorites.  This change is by us; and this change–if it is even reversed–science says, will develop negative habitat–from microscopic to human—just like dominos falling.


Categories: Condition of Oceans, nature, Ocean acidification, Plastics and marine mammals, Saving the Oceans, Scientific Adventure, Thoughts

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