Our blue planet, the only body in the universe known to harbor life. And blue is the perfect way to describe it. The ocean covers approximately 70% of the surface of Earth and contains 97% of Earth’s water and while sometimes referred to oceans, it is really only one body of water, interconnected across the globe. This interconnectedness is representative of nature as a whole.
A system in equilibrium. We don’t exist in isolation. We are connected.
Each actor in this system matters. From tiny, almost invisible, plankton providing us with more than half of the oxygen we breathe to the blue whale, sequestering 30 tons of carbon during their lifetime and taking it to the bottom of the ocean when they die.
Similarly, the conservation efforts of The Islands of the Bahamas have an impact on the world ocean, on the planet and humanity. From banning single use plastics to protecting sharks, this small nation has driven actions that benefit us all.
We hope you enjoy this immersive journey showcasing some of the environments and animals benefiting as a result, no matter where they exist on the planet.
What are mangroves? Mangroves are tropical trees that thrive in conditions most timber could never tolerate — salty, coastal waters, and the interminable ebb and flow of the tide. With the ability to store vast amounts of carbon, mangrove forests are key weapons in the fight against climate change, but there are many more benefits to mangroves, some of which are covered below:
At the interface of land and sea, mangroves comprise a wide array of unique habitats and support diverse terrestrial, estuarine, and marine species. They offer critical nursing environments for juveniles of thousands of fish species, from 1-inch gobies to 10-foot sharks. Two thirds of the fish we eat spend part of their life in mangroves. Some animals live directly on the roots, including snails, barnacles and oysters. Mangroves are prime nesting and resting sites for hundreds of shorebirds and migratory bird species, including kingfishers, herons, and egrets. Other examples include:
Oceans feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, supporting sectors from tourism to fisheries to international shipping. Coral reefs are especially important. They protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, and offer opportunities for recreation. They are also a source of food and new medicines. Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and protection.
Two major threats are plastic pollution and overfishing. Luckily, we can all do our part to minimize their impact.
At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Plastic debris is currently the most abundant type of litter in the ocean, making up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Plastic is found on the shorelines of every continent, with more plastic waste found near popular tourist destinations and densely populated areas.
Microplastics have been found in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife. Recently, microplastics were even found in human placentas.
Toxic contaminants also accumulate on the surface of plastic. When marine organisms ingest plastic debris, these contaminants enter their digestive systems, and over time accumulate in the food web. The transfer of contaminants between marine species and humans through consumption of seafood has been identified as a health hazard, and research is ongoing.
What is the one thing you can do to support?
Invest in products that can be reused multiple times in order to avoid purchasing single-use plastics. Instead of using Ziploc bags, bring your lunch to work in a Tupperware container. As opposed to purchasing large quantities of plastic water bottles, buy a reusable bottle that can be refilled throughout the day.
Fishing is one of the most significant drivers of declines in ocean wildlife populations. Catching fish is not inherently bad for the ocean, except for when vessels catch fish faster than stocks can replenish, a practice called overfishing. The damage done by overfishing goes beyond the marine environment. Billions of people rely on fish for protein, and fishing is the principal livelihood for millions of people around the world.
The number of overfished stocks globally has tripled in half a century and today fully one-third of the world’s assessed fisheries are currently pushed beyond their biological limits. Overfishing is closely tied to bycatch—the capture of unwanted sea life while fishing for a different species. This, too, is a serious marine threat that causes the needless loss of billions of fish, along with hundreds of thousands of sea turtles and cetaceans.
Certain fishing practices are especially bad. Bottom trawling destroys far more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice across the globe. In this fishing method, large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting a swath of habitat in their wake. Some of these scars will take centuries to heal, if ever.
What is the one thing you can do to support?
Choose only certified sustainable seafood and consider species that are overpopulated or invasive such as purple sea urchin and lionfish respectively. Be aware that certain seafood is fished almost exclusively using destructive fishing practices such as scallop where fisheries leverage bottom trawling. Even here sustainable alternatives, such as diver scallops, exist.
Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Coral polyps, the animals primarily responsible for building reefs, can take many forms: large reef building colonies, graceful flowing fans, and even small, solitary organisms. Thousands of species of corals have been discovered; some live in warm, shallow, tropical seas and others in the cold, dark depths of the ocean. Coral reefs protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, and offer opportunities for recreation. They are also are a source of food and new medicines. Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and protection. Fishing, diving, and snorkeling on and near reefs add hundreds of millions of dollars to local businesses. These ecosystems are culturally important to indigenous people around the world. Some interesting facts:
Sea turtles are marine reptiles with streamlined bodies and large flippers that are well-adapted to life in the ocean. Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females lay their eggs on land. They migrate hundreds to thousands of miles every year between feeding grounds and nesting beaches. One species, leatherback turtles, are among the most highly migratory animals on earth, traveling as many as 10,000 miles or more each year. Sea turtles are known to use the earth’s magnetic fields to nest on Florida’s Gulf beaches within about 40 to 50 miles of where they were born decades earlier.
We have better maps of Mars than we do of the ocean floor. In fact, according to NOAA more than 80% of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. The deep sea is unimaginably deep. The distance from the ocean’s surface to the bottom of the Challenger Deep is almost 7 miles. If Mount Everest was put into this chasm, it would still be more than a mile from breaking the surface of the water. Located near Guam, the Mariana Trench is the deepest known submarine trench. It is also the deepest known location on Earth itself.
Estimates now suggest that a significant proportion of Earth’s biodiversity, around one million species, resides in the ocean, with the majority still undiscovered in the deep sea. And the species we have discovered are truly unique. Some examples below:
However, this unknown marine ecosystem is already under threat. Especially deep sea mining may prove highly destructive to the deep ocean. Here, mining interests plan to use large, robotic machines to excavate the ocean floor in a way that’s similar to strip-mining on land. This process would wreak enormous damage. Massive machines digging, dredging, and vacuuming up the ocean floor would create huge sediment plumes deep in the ocean that will drift on currents, smothering marine life, including species not yet discovered. Surface-level processing ships would dump tailings—the waste materials left after the target mineral is extracted from ore—back into the ocean, killing plant and animal life as it drifts through the water column, releasing acidic and toxic sediment hazardous to fish and those who consume it.
What is the one thing you can do to support?
Engage with electric auto makers. Visit the ‘Race to the Top’ web app ranking and challenge electric vehicle manufacturers to stand against a potential deep sea mining industry. You can find the ranking HERE.
Have you heard of the ‘Martini Effect’? No, we are not talking about having that extra drink you are regretting the next day. The Martini Effect refers to narcosis while diving. It is a reversible alteration in consciousness that occurs while diving at depth. It is caused by the anesthetic effect of certain gases at high pressure.
Some of the effects include:
However, the ocean also holds the cures to some of the world’s most devastating diseases.
It’s an unlikely spot to be at the forefront of cutting-edge medical research, but scientists say the oceans could hold the key to finding the next generation of life-saving drugs. Scientists say unusual compounds and gene sequences in some marine creatures and plants could lead to anything from much-needed new antibiotics to cancer drugs.
Some chemicals produced by marine animals that may be useful in treating human diseases include:
A striking feature of this list is that all of the organisms (except the cone snail) non-moving invertebrates. To date, this has been true of most marine invertebrates that produce pharmacologically active substances. Several reasons have been suggested to explain why sessile marine animals are particularly productive of potent chemicals. One possibility is that they use these chemicals to repel predators, because they can’t move to escape. Another possibility is that since many of these species are filter feeders, they may use powerful chemicals to repel parasites or as antibiotics against disease-causing organisms.
Competition for space may explain why some of these invertebrates produce anti-cancer agents. If two species are competing for the same piece of bottom space, it would be helpful to produce a substance that would attack rapidly dividing cells of the competing organism. Since cancer cells often divide more rapidly than normal cells, the same substance might have anti-cancer properties.
Despite their relative simplicity, these organisms that have lived in the ccean for over 500 million years (outdating dinosaurs by over 200million years) survive extremely well in almost all areas of the world. They have long been described as ‘arguably the most important predators in the seas’, competing with adult fish for food, or by preying on eggs and larvae to reduce survivorship and recruitment of fish stocks, but the research suggests they might be much more beneficial to marine life than previously thought.
Jellyfish play an important role in controlling populations of zooplankton through their high feeding rates. In doing so, Jellyfish also create competition for other zooplankton feeders. This helps to prevent any single species from outcompeting all other individuals that feed on a similar diet, which could otherwise significantly reduce biodiversity. Jellyfish are an important food source for other marine organisms including sea turtles, sunfish and spade fish. Furthermore, studies have also suggested that after dying, jellyfish act as an important food source to organisms living in the deep depths of the ocean.
Jellyfish also provide habitat and space for developing larval and juvenile fish. The fish use their jellyfish hosts as means of protection from predators and for feeding opportunities, helping to reduce fish mortality and increase recruitment.
Fish found living with Jellyfish also benefit from the available food sources that are also associated with the symbiotic relationship. These relationships with developing individuals are significantly important for enhancing the recruitment of certain species of fish to an adult life stage, many of which are of commercial value. One study found that 2/3rd of fish who formed symbiotic relationships with one species of jellyfish were commercially valuable and many of which were still in recovery from previous depletion of stocks.
Lightening bug flashes are part of a complex system of insect courting. Typically, male fireflies use distinctive patterns of flashing while in flight to send signals to females down on the ground. The males flash in unison as a way for the female to be certain she is responding to one of her kind. There are other firefly species flashing at night, and some of them are predatory, so she must be able to recognize males of her species. There are around 2,000 different species of fireflies making synchronicity vital for survival.
The most amazing part however is how fireflies have impacted us all. Nearly 100% of a firefly’s glowing energy is given off as light. Why does this matter? Because originally in a standard lightbulb, 10% of the energy is light while the other 90% is given off as heat. Consequently, scientists applied a jagged overlayer on top of a standard LED bulb with light-sensitive material and then used a laser to create the triangular factory roof profile. This increased light extraction in LED lights by more than 50%.
With nature holding so much knowledge we must do our best to preserve the one planet we have. Something as small as a firefly can impact energy usage around the globe. Plankton gives us every second breath. Conservation efforts by a small nation like The Islands of the Bahamas led to the discovery of the world’s largest seagrass meadow. Similarly, you are not too small to have an impact. Your actions matter. Let’s come together and make each action count.
Sources: Aquarium of the Pacific, BBC, Biology Dictionary, Biomimicry Institute, Britannica, Calacademy, Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, Conservation Reefcause, Department of the Interior, Global Citizen, IUCN, KAUST, Mangrove Action Project, MedicalNewsToday, National Geographic, National Library of Medicine, Nature, NOAA, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Oceanographic Magazine, One Earth, PADI, PEW Charitable Trust, Pollinator.org, Sharkinsider, Smithonian, Surfrider, The Atlantic, Tidal Gardens, United Nations FOA, Weforum, WWF