(Illustration: Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa‘ found here).
Our little blue planet is mostly covered in water, and mostly salt water — 72 percent of the planet’s surface is salt water found in oceans and seas. I grew up on what was called a gulf, the Gulf of Mexico, but in reality it’s all one single entity. You can way-easily sail from ocean to sea to gulf, and ’round back again — the system is pretty fluid.
In fact: Ancient Greeks thought the sea was a river that flowed around the planet. “Ocean” comes from okeanos, Greek for “river.”
And we humans have made, and are still making, the most of it.
According to the UN, three billion people someway depend on the oceans for their livelihoods, with fishing itself directly or indirectly employing more than 200 million people, and, 2.6 billion people rely on the oceans for their primary source of protein. In other words, the world’s survival requires the oceans to remain healthy.
Obamacare or not, the patient is sick.
And over a short space, the oceans are going bust — and 9 billion people on small patches of land consuming and discarding tons and tons of shit has wrecked the marine environment. Climate change seems to add icing on a nasty cake.
Via global warming, a new report indicates the oceans are heating up and twisting out of shape.
Last week from the LA Times:
Those changing conditions will reduce the growth and size of sea creatures, increase mortality, disrupt ocean food webs and cause species to shift toward the poles and into deeper water, the study found.
Shallow water environments, including coral reefs and seagrass beds, will see more drastic changes than deep-sea habitat, the study predicts.
Whales, seals, squid and krill are among the sea creatures projected to experience greater shifts in response to changing ocean chemistry and ecology.
The oceanic changes will affect between 470 million and 870 million poor people who live in coastal areas of countries that rely on the sea for food and jobs and have little ability to adapt, researchers estimated.
Okay, that’s bad shit, huh? Yet even worse — the oceans are already fucked.
A mind-blowing story that’s a must-read is a piece from the Newcastle Herald, Newcastle, Australia, titled “The Ocean is Broken,” which relates the tale of Newcastle yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen’s recent journey across the Pacific Ocean — from Melbourne to Osaka, Japan, then on to the US.
Macfadyen recounts a trip through the heart of coming darkness. The first leg to Japan included a way-noticeable absence of fish and birds — and maybe a reason supplied when he encountered a monster fishing vessel which “…trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing.”
Only tuna, though, the rest was dumped.
And if you think that’s bad, Macfadyen’s trip then got worse:
The next leg of the long voyage was from Osaka to San Francisco and for most of that trip the desolation was tinged with nauseous horror and a degree of fear.
“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Macfadyen said.
“We hardly saw any living things.
We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head.
It was pretty sickening.
“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds.
But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”
In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.
Ivan’s brother, Glenn, who boarded at Hawaii for the run into the United States, marvelled at the “thousands on thousands” of yellow plastic buoys.
The huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets.
Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million.
And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere.
Countless hundreds of wooden power poles are out there, snapped off by the killer wave and still trailing their wires in the middle of the sea.
“In years gone by, when you were becalmed by lack of wind, you’d just start your engine and motor on,” Ivan said.
Not this time.
“In a lot of places we couldn’t start our motor for fear of entangling the propeller in the mass of pieces of rope and cable. That’s an unheard of situation, out in the ocean.
“If we did decide to motor we couldn’t do it at night, only in the daytime with a lookout on the bow, watching for rubbish.
“We were weaving around these pieces of debris. It was like sailing through a garbage tip.
“Below decks you were constantly hearing things hitting against the hull, and you were constantly afraid of hitting something really big.
As it was, the hull was scratched and dented all over the place from bits and pieces we never saw.”
Plastic was ubiquitous.
Bottles, bags and every kind of throwaway domestic item you can imagine, from broken chairs to dustpans, toys and utensils.
A horror story, to say the least — and even worse than that, the shit can’t/won’t ever be cleaned up: “But they said they’d calculated that the environmental damage from burning the fuel to do that job would be worse than just leaving the debris there.”
(Great h/t to Digby at Hullabaloo, who called the above sailboat ride “…the most depressing story you’ll read this week although it’s only Monday so you never know.”