It covers 70 percent of the earth’s area and contains 97 percent of the world’s water. With that much volume and area, it wouldn’t be too hard to think of the ocean as enduring and unchanging in the midst of all the environmental problems we are having today.
And yet, the glaring truth is that it is a vulnerable resource. Right now, one of the most dire issues that’s making it vulnerable is man-made climate change.
By itself, climate change is a normal phenomenon.
The planet has its own natural cycle of warming and cooling down, one that takes centuries to occur. But with the increased presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere brought about by human activities, these cycles are now happening within decades.
This is wreaking havoc on the planet and the ocean. All over the world, news agencies report weather catastrophes to highlight visible-impact climate crises to generate the urgency needed to solve this problem. But what is less reported is the often invisible changes happening to the ocean that’s equally important to address.
One of these effects is that the ocean is producing bigger waves due to the rising water temperatures caused by global warming.
Scientists studied the energy contained in ocean waves which are transmitted from the wind and transformed into wave motion. They found out that the wave power has been increasing in direct association with the increased warming of the upper ocean surface.
Since 1948, the historical weather records have shown that wave power has increased worldwide by 0.4 percent and this is accompanied by increasing sea-surface temperatures in every ocean. This rising trend in sea-surface temperatures has influenced wind patterns globally, making ocean waves in popular surfing spots bigger and stronger.
At first glance, this may seem to be good news particularly for us surfers as this will result to bigger waves for us to ride on. But in the larger scheme of things, this is actually dangerous.
Wave action is one of the important drivers of coastal change and flooding. Ocean waves determine where people build infrastructure, such as ports and harbors, or protective infrastructure like breakwaters and levees.
But as wave energy increases, stronger waves can result in the destruction of coastal communities or flood coastal cities or sink small island states. The damage will be widespread.
And if this isn’t enough, the sea level rise, also brought about by climate change, will further strengthen the wave action by propelling more wave energy shoreward.
Climate change is also affecting local fish populations that we rely on for food.
More than bleaching the corals, rising water temperatures are also killing off fish populations that live in shallower waters.
Marine scientists say that these local populations are disappearing at double the rate of land-based species. That’s because they can’t escape the heat as easy as land-based organisms.
In the ocean, there are few places to hide from extreme heat. Unlike a lizard which can hide under a rock to keep out the sun, fishes and crabs don’t have many options.
When the water heats up, they can’t flee into deep water where the cold currents are because their bodies are not designed to live in deep water.
And that makes them vulnerable.
This situation impacts food security since these sea creatures are the ones usually caught for food. Fish species that are caught in shallow waters are an important source of protein for about half the world’s population. When these die off because they cannot tolerate the heat, this will affect the world’s food security.
Climate change is already here and we've already gone over the carbon threshold. But failing to do something about it is not only immoral but also irresponsible. We gotta turn the tide and that means starting with ourselves.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
It’s not only the fishes that are affected but also the ocean’s communities of micro-organisms.
Microbes are the basic starting points for the food web. In the ocean, they cycle minerals, nutrients, and energy. They break down organic matter. Without microbes, the ocean that we know and love wouldn’t exist.
But climate change is altering the balance of the ocean’s microbial communities so that they can cause damaging climate feedback loops on the ocean ecosystem.
The rising temperatures of the ocean is triggering these microbial populations to grow abnormally fast, which can have dangerous consequences for those higher up in the food chain.
For instance, we know how the breeding and feeding cycles of many marine species are closely related to the regular timing and stable locations of plankton blooms. When a population explosion of plankton is suddenly brought on by climate change, this can disrupt the natural cycle resulting in declining populations and widespread starvation for many of these species. It can fundamentally affect the whole food chain.
Another example are the cases of red tide that keep frequently occurring all over the world. The heat is causing the growth of toxic algae blooms which kill shellfish and other marine wildlife. When this happens, this becomes a health issue because the toxins can find its way into our diet.
What to Do
All these underscore how critical it is to address the issue of man-made climate change. We’re the ones responsible for this and we should be the ones doing major over time in cleaning the mess we’ve made.
And there are many ways to get started.
One is by lowering one’s own carbon footprint. You can do this by not using single-use plastics which have grown to be a major pollution problem in the ocean.
If you’re a surfer, you can also use eco-friendly products, like the stylish gear that we produce here at Wave Tribe. These products are made sustainably and are designed not to negatively impact the environment.
Climate change is already here and we’ve already gone over the carbon threshold. But failing to do something about it is not only immoral but also irresponsible. We gotta turn the tide and that means starting with ourselves. Because if you won’t do anything to save the ocean, how can you be an effective steward for the environment?
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