Celebrating oceans

This weekend, take a moment to consider the ocean. Perhaps you are one of the 2.4 billion people — that’s 40 per cent of the world’s population — who live within 100 kilometres of the coast. But even if you don’t get to hear the waves every day, the ocean and its coasts affect us all, from jobs and tourism to food and climate regulation.

From Sept. 16-22, The Conversation Canada is celebrating Science Literacy Week — and the ocean.

The ocean covers 70 per cent of the planet’s surface and contains the Earth’s highest peaks, deepest valleys and flattest plains. It holds more than 500,000 species (and perhaps as many as 10 million) that feed us and provide us with the ingredients for medicines that help fight cancer and heart disease. And living at the sea surface are marine phytoplankton, microscopic plant-like organisms that produce half the oxygen on Earth. The ocean is even slowing the rate of climate change by absorbing about a third of the human emissions of carbon dioxide and much of the additional heat being trapped by global warming.

Despite all these benefits, the ocean is under threat from human activities. Millions of tonnes of plastic enter the ocean annually, putting marine fish, mammals and seabirds at risk. Marine heatwaves and ocean acidification due to climate change are destroying coral reefs and straining coastal resources, including economically important fisheries. Mining companies are even looking to the seafloor to extract the metals we need for everything from cell phones to aircraft engines to wind turbines. Shipping, fishing and tourist activities are contributing to whale deaths.

But there is hope. Bans on single-use plastics are gaining ground around the world and citizens are taking part in beach cleanups and scientific studies to identify research questions, collect data and test solutions. The number of marine protected areas is gaining as countries race to meet their 2020 conservation targets, and there are new rules governing shipping, deep-sea mining, pollution and more in the works.

And don’t forget: we’re travelling east next week with two live events that will take a critical look at the ocean and its future. Come join us and our authors for an interactive panel discussion at the Halifax Public Library on Monday, Sept.16 and the Johnson GEO CENTRE in St. John's, Nfld., on Wednesday, Sept.18.

Come and explore the ocean with us!

Hannah Hoag

Environment + Energy Editor

Science Literacy Week: Oceans

Ocean warming is changing the relationship coastal communities have with the ocean

Eric Oliver, Dalhousie University

Coastal communities are helping scientists understand the impacts of marine heatwaves — and find solutions.

Getting to the bottom of things: Can mining the deep sea be sustainable?

Anna Metaxas, Dalhousie University; Verena Tunnicliffe, University of Victoria

Companies are developing technologies to mine the deep sea, but environmental regulations have yet to be finalized.

Citizen science could help address Canada’s plastic pollution problem

Tony Robert Walker, Dalhousie University

Governments need better information on which types of plastic generate the most pollution — citizens can help.

The profound perspective of geoscience can unite students

Stephen R. Meyers, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A science researcher's work gets twisted by a conservative news site; he considers this his wake-up call to educate as many students as possible about the importance of science to our world.

New fishing rules aim to protect Gulf of St. Lawrence right whales

Kimberley T A Davies, Dalhousie University

After 17 North Atlantic right whales were killed or caught in fishing gear in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017, the Canadian government set new rules for the snow crab and lobster fisheries.

Marine heatwaves are getting hotter, lasting longer and doing more damage

Eric Oliver, Dalhousie University; Alistair Hobday, CSIRO; Dan Smale, Marine Biological Association; Neil Holbrook, University of Tasmania; Thomas Wernberg, University of Western Australia

Marine heatwaves have had little attention until recently, but they're already having large effects.

Caught on camera: Ancient Greenland sharks

Brynn Devine, Memorial University of Newfoundland; Jonathan A. D. Fisher, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Using baited cameras scientists have captured some of the first underwater video footage of the elusive Greenland shark.

Not all marine fish eat plastics

Max Liboiron, Memorial University of Newfoundland

If we are truly invested in addressing the issue of marine plastic and offsetting the potential harms, we have to understand which fish eat plastic and which ones don't.

Quieter ships could help Canada’s endangered orcas recover

Priyanka Varkey, Dalhousie University; Tony Robert Walker, Dalhousie University

Noisy waters may be making it harder for southern resident killer whales to communicate with each other and find their food.

Why decarbonizing marine transportation might not be smooth sailing

Tony Robert Walker, Dalhousie University

Shipping companies are expected to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.