why keep oceans clean

Why Is it Important to Keep Our Oceans Clean?

Rachel Lark - July 27, 2023

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Nowhere on Earth is as vast and mysterious as the ocean. Spanning the globe and touching every continent, our seas for crucial to our livelihoods and well-being. Of course, sustaining global markets is only one reason why it is important to keep our oceans clean. The sea is the Earth’s largest ecosystem and supports all life — even those on land.

The world must preserve marine environments if we want to ensure the survival of future generations.

The Deep Blue’s Pollution Problem

Marine pollution is an increasing problem as more industrial and residential waste accumulates, overflowing into waterways. Sadly, human activity is the culprit. Plastic pollution, in particular, makes up 80% of ocean waste — nearly eight to 10 million metric tons annually. Scientists even predict plastic pollution will outweigh sea life by 2050.

Plastic can take thousands of years to break down — as it degrades, microscopic particles float at the surface as marine life — turtles, sea birds and fish — mistakes it for food. 

Of course, plastic isn’t the only waste you can find in our oceans. Over 80% of contaminants, including toxic metals, sewage, petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and other synthetic chemicals, derive from land. Most often, higher concentrations of noxious discharge occur along coastlines in low and middle-income nations.

Humans may not think twice about purchasing seafood from the grocery store. However, your health may be at risk when you consume contaminated fish. This chain reaction underscores why it is important to clean our oceans.

5 Reasons Why You Should Keep Our Oceans Clean

About 71% of the Earth is covered in water — of the total, the ocean makes up 96.5%. Researchers have only explored a small fraction of the deep blue sea, most of which is the coastline. However, the coasts are where people live, work and visit most. 

You should care about what happens to these ocean communities. More than likely, your next meal comes from a hardworking fisherman, or you plan to take a much-need beach vacation. Here are five reasons why you should keep our oceans clean.

1. Absorbs Carbon and Purifies the Air

The ocean is the world’s most significant carbon sink. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found the ocean absorbed 34 billion metric tons of carbon from 1994 to 2007 — four times more than from the Industrial Revolution to 1994. The findings were eye-opening, especially as human activity exacerbates global warming. Fortunately, the ocean also has a cooling effect, regulating the planet’s hotter climate.

In addition to regulating the Earth’s exceedingly warm temperatures, the ocean produces nearly 50% of the oxygen we breathe — essential to all life.

2. Supports Economies

The blue economy is robust, enabling many — especially in developing countries — to care for and support themselves and their families. About 40% of the global population lives in coastal communities worldwide — 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. 

As marine environments grow increasingly polluted, it compromises coastal economies. Fish become contaminated, and waterways require ample clean-up costs. Ultimately the fishing industry has a significant financial loss, further burdening vulnerable populations.

3. Provides Recreation

Tourism makes up another part of the blue economy. Beaches are highly desirable vacation spots worldwide. However, the ocean becomes less safe and appealing to tourists as pollution ramps up. 

For instance, toxic runoff entered Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2016, causing widespread algae blooms. Officials warned people to stay out of the water while dead fish washed on shore, resulting in a rotten stench. Nearly 37% of tourists chose another beach destination that year, leaving local businesses and restaurants strapped for cash.

Other recreation opportunities beaches and oceans provide include fishing, running, sailing, surfing, kayaking and scuba diving — all at risk from marine pollution.

4. Feeds Hungry Populations

Seafood is an essential food source for billions of people worldwide. Nearly 9.8% of the global population — 828 million people — are hungry. Most individuals live in developing nations with little access to food, water and other resources. As the population rises — experts predict it’ll reach 9.7 people by 2050 — so will the demand for food and adequate nutrition.
The world has yet to maximize the full potential of the sea. With policies and technological advancements, humans can provide an additional 21 to 44 million tons of seafood by mid-century — a 36% to 74% uptick.

5. Supplies Medicinal Ingredients

Humans haven’t begun to tap the surface of what we can find in the ocean. With each widespread pollution outbreak, we lose access to vital medicinal ingredients for cancer treatments and new antibiotics.

Some current ocean-derived drugs include Ecsteinascidin to treat ovarian and breast cancers and w-conotoxin MVIIA from the cone snail, a strong pain reliever. 

Other ocean ecosystems — such as coral reefs — provide plant ingredients to Alzheimer’s cardiovascular and arthritis drugs. Corals are actually animals and scientists are trying to understand how their natural chemical makeup protects them.

Looking forward, coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems will be used in various treatments, vitamins, supplements and cosmetics.

How You Can Help Clean Our Oceans

You may not have a solution to the pollution problem. However, there are many ways you can promote a healthy ocean, such as the following:

  • Avoid runoff by conserving water
  • Find safer alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers
  • Buy sustainable seafood
  • Opt for reusable water bottles, grocery bags and biodegradable straws and toothbrushes
  • Practice “catch and release” while fishing
  • Keep water vessels away from coral reefs and “no wake” zones
  • Respect coastal habitats and wildlife
  • Volunteer during beach clean-ups
  • Support nonprofit organizations focused on cleaning our oceans

These may seem like small measures you can take, but they can positively impact marine environments. Start small if it feels overwhelming. You don’t have to start all new habits at once. 

A Healthy Ocean Is Crucial for Survival

The ocean benefits everyone and everything — without it, we could not survive. It is important to keep our oceans clean to ensure the safety and resources for future generations. Cleaning our oceans also protects precious marine life from illness, injury and death.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.