Saving Our Seas: How We Can Help

Last Updated: April 28, 2024By

Saving Our Seas: How We Can Help

1. Help Nature Out: Bringing Back Ocean Species

Some ocean creatures and habitats can’t bounce back on their own and need a bit of help. Take sea otters, for example. They were nearly wiped out by the late 1800s because people hunted them for their thick, warm fur.

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From the 1960s to 1990, people moved some sea otters to places where they used to live. Now, there are about 150,000 sea otters in the wild, and a third of them are from those relocated ones.

Imagine sea stars the size of bike wheels! Sunflower sea stars, which can grow that big, faced a tough time when a disease hit them hard. Scientists had to start breeding them in aquariums because their numbers dropped so low.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is thinking about moving more otters to areas they once lived, especially along the coast north of San Francisco. Why? Because otters are great for the ecosystem. Without them, sea urchins would take over and destroy kelp forests. When otters came back to Alaska and British Columbia, the kelp forests returned too.

Efforts are also being made to help other predators like the sunflower sea stars, who are crucial for keeping sea urchin numbers in check. In 2013, a disease turned them into goo, nearly wiping them out. Some healthy ones were moved to labs at the University of Washington, where scientists figured out how to breed them. If they can’t bounce back on their own, we might be able to release them from captivity to help out.

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2. Stop Polluting the Oceans

To protect our oceans, we need to stop all the pollutants that are flowing into them. More people than ever are aware of the pollution problem, from rivers full of sewage to whales choking on plastic bags.

There’s a growing movement to tackle this issue, with ongoing talks at the United Nations about a global treaty on plastics. Some want to reduce plastic production, while others think recycling can solve the problem, even though only about 10% of plastics are actually recycled.

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A big issue is “forever chemicals.” These pollutants are found in many everyday items like furniture, food containers, non-stick pans, and even school uniforms. They don’t break down and can be found in wildlife, water, and even in our bodies. These chemicals increase cancer risks and cause many health problems, from liver damage to birth defects, and they also harm sea animals like seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales.

So far, very few of these forever chemicals have been banned, and it took long legal battles to get there. Now, there’s a push for a total ban to stop the chemical industry from just replacing one harmful substance with another.

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3. Control Overfishing

One clear way to save ocean species is to stop catching so many of them.

By the mid-1900s, commercial whaling had wiped out more than 99% of the blue whales in the Antarctic. These huge creatures disappeared for decades, but now they’re being seen again around South Georgia island, thanks to a global ban on whaling.

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Some species can recover even while still being fished if the regulations are strong and enforced properly. For example, bluefin tuna are coming back to British waters after fishing limits were put in place in the Atlantic.

In the Cayman Islands, fishing for Nassau groupers is strictly controlled. You can’t catch or sell them during winter spawning months, and there’s a daily limit of five fish per boat the rest of the year. Because of these rules, more groupers are showing up at spawning sites.

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We need more effective management of fisheries and to limit their damage, especially from industrial fishing.

4. Protect Areas of the Sea

One proven way to boost sea life is to leave some parts of the ocean completely alone, with no fishing or extraction. Unfortunately, many marine protected areas (MPAs) are still being fished, often using destructive methods. In 2023, industrial bottom trawlers spent 196 weeks dragging heavy nets along the seabed inside British MPAs.

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Strictly protected areas are showing amazing benefits. One of the largest, the Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument, covers over 1.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii. Studies show that tuna schools migrating through nearby seas are growing, likely because their spawning grounds are protected.

Much of the ocean needs similar protection, especially deep-sea areas with rich coral and sponge forests. Existing marine parks need better enforcement, and regulations must be tightened to make a real impact on ocean life. Protecting coastal areas works best when local communities are involved, ensuring that both nature and people benefit.

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5. Ban Deep-Sea Mining

The ocean’s future partly hinges on whether a harmful new industry—deep-sea mining—gets to start digging for rare minerals.

The deep seafloor is home to unique creatures like “Barbie piglet” sea cucumbers and ghostly white octopuses, which play crucial roles in ocean health. But all that could be at risk if mining begins.

Mining would involve massive machines scraping and sucking up rocks from the seabed, potentially damaging vast areas. Early targets include a region in the central Pacific about the size of the United States.

The big question isn’t if deep-sea mining will harm the ocean, but how bad the damage will be. At least a decade of well-funded research is needed to find out. However, mining companies, supported by governments, want to start within the next year.

This year is crucial for the future of deep-sea mining, with important negotiations happening at the International Seabed Authority. There’s even talk of a 10-year moratorium to halt the industry before it starts.

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