On June 8 we observe World Oceans Day and while we celebrate the majesty and beauty of our seas and the myriad creatures that dwell in them, we must also think about their plight and do what we can to protect them. Covering over 70 percent of our planet’s surface, the oceans are vital to the survival of life on earth and yet they are in peril, under threat from climate change, pollution and overexploitation. We are already seeing the consequences in many parts of the world and the situation is deteriorating.
Increasing levels of water acidification due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a dire effect on corals and throughout the world our precious coral reefs and their biodiversity are under threat. Climate change is already leading to extreme weather, the melting of the ice caps, rising sea levels, coastal flooding and erosion and also to species decline.
There are vast islands of garbage in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and recent research shows that they are even larger than previously thought. The harmful chemicals in plastics and minute fragments called micro-plastics accumulate in the food chain affecting the health of fish, birds and other marine creatures and ultimately our own. Other forms of pollution include oil slicks like the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010, pesticides and fertilizers used in agriculture, heavy metals and radioactive waste, sewage and sediments.
Fisheries are depleted in many areas of the world and the decline in numbers of large marine animals such as whales, sharks and rays is notorious, estimated at 75 percent. Our actions are affecting every creature, from ocean giants to the microscopic plankton and krill at the bottom of the food chain that provide sustenance for so many species such as the whale shark and whales.
Beautiful and peaceful giants of the Ocean: Whale Sharks
The destruction of mangrove forest in coastal areas deprives many species of fish of breeding and feeding grounds. The roots of the mangrove also anchor sediment in place and act as water filters. If they are removed polluted coastal runoff flows straight out to sea and sediments clog
coral polyps with fatal consequences. The list of problems is endless and time is running out if we are to prevent irreversible damage.
Time for Action
We must act together to protect our oceans. Every little helps and here’s a look at some of the ways you can participate while on vacation in the Mexican Caribbean and back home.
• Reduce energy consumption; by doing so you can help cut fossil fuel emissions and combat global warming. Here are some examples: turn lights and appliances off when you leave the room and switch to energy-saving light bulbs, walk instead of using the car and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
• Save water and reduce your use of chemicals such as non-biodegradable cleaning, laundry or garden products that drain into rivers and ultimately into the oceans.
• Recycle your trash. Did you know that there are huge islands of plastic garbage floating in our oceans, carried for thousands of miles by the currents? Use reusable bags and storage containers wherever possible.
• Help keep the world’s beaches clean. Take your garbage with you when you depart. Ring pulls, plastic beer packaging and cellophane bags are harmful to seabirds and marine life, including the sea turtle, which mistake bags for jellyfish, one of its foods. Another sobering statistic relates to the cigarette butts that are stubbed out in the sand as though it is one huge ashtray, the UN International Maritime Organization estimates that 177 species of marine animals and 111 species of shorebirds are affected by tobacco litter.
Royal Resorts staff participating in the daily beach cleaning
• Always use environmentally friendly, biodegradable sunscreens, especially if you plan to go snorkeling and swimming. The chemicals and oils in standard sun products contaminate the water and are harmful to corals and other marine life. Better still, as an alternative to sun creams, wearing a t-shirt while snorkeling helps protect you from the sun’s rays.
• Keep your distance from coral reefs when snorkeling and diving. Corals are very slow growing and the slightest touch or the sand stirred up by your fins can cause damage that it will take the reef hundreds of years to recover from.
• However appealing they may be, do not remove shells or any other creature living or dead from rock pools or coral reefs.
• Fishermen should always dispose of fishing lines, nets, hooks and lead weights correctly. Birds and other marine creatures can become entangled in nets or swallow bait and fishing lines, dying a slow and agonizing death. Large-scale commercial fishing techniques also take their toll on dolphins, turtles and birds. A study carried out by the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International estimates that longline fishing may cause the deaths of up to 300,00 seabirds a year.
• We urge you to observe the “catch and release” policy for game fish such as marlin and sailfish.
• Look for sustainably caught or raised seafood. The populations of many of the world’s most popular fish species are depleted due to decades of overfishing using unsustainable methods.
• Don’t buy shells, corals, starfish, turtle eggs or meat, tortoiseshell jewelry and combs (made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle), and turtle oil creams.
• Learn all you can about the ocean, the role it plays and the challenges it faces.
• Support organizations working to protect the ocean and marine life.
* Lobby for action against global warming, for the protection of our oceans, marine life and for sustainable fishing techniques.
At The Royal Haciendas, our Riviera Maya resort, staff and guests observed World Environment Day on June 5 and World Oceans Day with special events. On June 8, an exhibition on the different forms of ocean pollution will be installed at noon on the terrace where the taco party is held. This will be followed by a beach cleaning session and everyone is invited to take part and do their bit for the ocean.