Carl Safina on World Oceans Day 2010

It’s June, and that means World Oceans Day 2010.

Carl Safina: We are blessed with a magnificent and miraculous world ocean on this planet. But we are also stressing it in ways that we are not even close to bringing under control.

Marine ecologist Carl Safina is a MacArthur Prize-winning scientist and author who co-founded the Blue Ocean Institute in 2003 with the goal of protecting Earth’s oceans. There are lots of reasons to protect them – including every breath we take. Worldwide, Safina said, about half of the oxygen we breathe in is from microscopic plankton that live in the ocean.

Carl Safina: The most important thing that I want people today to know about the world’s oceans is that we live by it. Without the oceans, we wouldn’t have enough oxygen to breath. The planet would never be able to sustain life.

Of course, Safina said, the oceans today are stressed. He mentioned pollution – and overfishing. (If you like to eat seafood, but want to know what seafood is most ocean-friendly, check out the Blue Ocean Institute seafood guide.) Dr. Safina told EarthSky his thoughts on World Oceans Day.

Carl Safina: I think that we need it more than once a year, because we’re not doing a good enough job at keeping the oceans in mind. And of course we have this terrible situation in the Gulf of Mexico right now, which is just taking a lot of attention and a lot of emotion as we watch it unfold.

Safina called the ocean ‘the ultimate downstream destination’ for all of the pollutants, chemicals, everything that we throw away.

Carl Safina: We are emptying it to feed a human population that really cannot be supported at current levels in anything like a reasonably dignified way if you look across the entire human population. And it’s telling us a very important message. And it would be good to listen. Maybe we need to metaphorically pick up a big sea shell and hold it to our ears and listen to the message of the ocean.

He spoke about the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which he called a ‘blowout.’

Carl Safina: The oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is certainly a catastrophe, maybe the single biggest environmental catastrophe in our country’s history, unless you count the failure of energy policy that has really brought it about. But it’s really having a drastic effect on the lives and potential livelihoods of thousands of people in the Gulf. It also affects endangered sea turtles that go from the open Atlantic ocean into the Gulf to breed, endangered blue fin tuna that go from the open Atlantic ocean into the Gulf to breed, and millions of birds that winter in the Gulf or come flying across the Gulf from South America on their way to northern breeding areas all the way up the East coast, all the way across Canada, even as far as Greenland. So it’s not just a regional problem for the gulf or people in the Gulf. It affects all of us, as we figure out what we need to do as a country to help the people in the Gulf. It will affect all of us financially as well.

Dr. Safina spoke more about the state of the world’s oceans in 2010.

Carl Safina: The oceans are in a lot of trouble. And I want to say that I don’t think that the oceans are dying, really. It’s not as if every place is a dead zone. I think the oceans are really teaming with a lot more life than many people ever get to see and never realize. But the amount of life, compared to the amount of life that existed 50 years ago, is far less today. Overfishing has really reduced the populations of fish almost everywhere in the world.

The U.S., said Safina, is one of the best countries in the world in reversing the tide of overfishing.

Carl Safina: We at least now have new laws requiring an end to overfishing and mandatory rebuilding of fish populations. There’s nothing like that in most of the world. Australia’s pretty good. New Zealand is pretty good. In a lot of the world, there really is essentially no control on fishing. And it has made an enormous difference. Sea turtle populations and sea bird populations are down a lot in many places. Whale populations remain depressed in many places, but are recovering in some, especially, again, around the waters of the United States.

June 8, 2010

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