While many people are significant distances away from the world's oceans, it is indisputable that ocean activities effect every living creature on Earth. The world's oceans effect weather patterns that supply freshwater on land for drinking and food and energy production, seafood provides 16% of the worlds animal protein intake (World Bank), and oceans provide half of the world's oxygen (Living Oceans). Further, coral reefs and mangroves help dissipate storm surges and protect our coastlines as well as provide habitat to much of ocean's life, and help absorb and process carbon dioxide. However, the world's oceans are quickly deteriorating due to water pollution, deprived physical processes, poor watershed management, and infrastructure development.
"We strongly believe that by saving our rivers, we can drastically improve our oceans"
What is not widely known, is that 80% of the ocean's pollution comes from land. While many people picture floating plastics, ocean pollution also consists of nutrient pollution, sediment, heavy metals, and toxic chemicals. While it is easy to assume large and densely populated coastal cities are the main source of pollution, the vast majority of water-to-land interface is along river banks. In the U.S., there are 12,450 miles of coastline, and over 7 million miles of river banks, or for every 1 mile of coastline, 562 miles of river banks. Even small islands typically have more rivers miles than coastlines (e.g. ratios of coast to river banks are 1:24 for New Zealand, and 1:34 for Puerto Rico). For this reason, we strongly believe that by saving our rivers, we can drastically improve our oceans.
The same water pollution in our rivers, enters our oceans and has similar impacts of harmful algae blooms, toxic chemicals, elevated temperatures, and degraded habitats that once had the capacity to process mild levels of pollutants. Through efforts and projects aimed at improving water quality, our oceans will benefit from the following.
- Reduced Toxins in Fish: Fish and shellfish naturally absorb the pollutants for their water bodies. We all know of mercury, but the vast majority of mercury in fish is due to mercury in our atmosphere that enters the water; however, this process and insecurity illustrates how easily pollutants in our water are absorbed. Through improving our water pollution, we will vastly be improving the health of all species, and in turn a healthier and more diverse ecosystem that in turn will provide more food abundance, water and pollution filtration.
- Fish Kill: Certain pollutants like liquid manure, and mine waste water can cause large numbers of fish kill. Through stronger measures of pollution prevention, we can greatly reduce such horrific yet avoidable catastrophes.
- Habitats: Water pollution causes significant damage to corral reefs and mangroves, which are extremely valuable habitat for most fish in ocean and bird life.
Naturally, rivers connect with the ocean through estuaries. Therefore, these systems are interlinked, and when one source is degraded, the implications are felt throughout the greater ecosystem. By improving the natural processes of river hydraulics, morphology, and vegetation, oceans can have these specific benefits:
Reduced Sediment Pollution: Much of the pollution entering the estuaries and ocean's are fine sediments. Fine sediments are encouraged due to stream incision and excess bank erosion. Through improving the hydraulics, morphology and vegetation, incision and excessive erosion.
Habitat Health: Through natural flood events, sediment movement, and flood-controlled vegetation, greater river and estuary habitats develop and naturally re-vitalize. These improvements will bring valuable nutrients and destroy and re-generate healthy habitats as has been done for millions of years.
Coastline Protection: When the natural processes of river processes are disturbed, often times the necessary sediment needed to maintain beaches is diminished. Through improving the natural river processes, adequate sediment delivery can help prevent higher rates of coaster erosion and loss of valuable recreational activity and tourism.
Watershed protection has become one of the primary focuses for the protection and improvement of coral reefs. Through cost-effective improvements to the land and water, significant benefits can be achieved including:
- Pollution Reduction: Through collaborations and funding schemes such as Conservation Reserve Programs, and water quality trading, farmers and land owners can be compensated to retire certain agricultural land, restore wetlands and other valuable habitats. These actions not only increase the ecosystems functionality and vitality, but help prevent and sequester pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorous, fine sediments, and heavy metals.
Initially, cities along coastlines have utilized the seemingly infant ocean system as a place of waste water and sewage desposal. Such systems as combined sewage overflows (CSO) systems to release raw sewage into waterways when storm water systems become too full, release millions of gallons of sewage into our rivers, estuaries, and oceans. By improving our water infrastructure, the following benefits to our oceans will occur:
- Reduction in Pollution: Through redesigning overflow systems, and implementing new green infrastructure (e.g. rain gardens, permeable pavement, etc.), communities can improve their outdated infrastructure to produce less waste water, recycle waste water, and stop the unnecessary disposal of sewage and pollution to our nearby rivers, lakes, estuaries, and oceans.
- Rethinking Dams: Careful consideration to new dam development, retrofitting old dams, and improved dam developments can help reconnect rivers and oceans that will drastically improve the ability for fish, such as salmon, to complete their natural spawning migration. Further, through alternatives to dams, such as pumped hydro storage, both water storage and energy generation can be achieved, that have far less negeative impacts on rivers and ocean ecosystems.
Finally, we need to be environmentally consciences about what developments are built in relation to sensitive ecosystems. As noted in the watershed section, wetlands and mangroves have long been seen as wastelands and have been removed during agriculture and infrastructure development. Today, we know that these systems are offer large ecosystem, economical, and security benefits such as pollution reduction, carbon sequestering, rich ecosystems for vast numbers of species, and protection against storm events. By improving, restoring, and creating these ecosystems, ocean's can benefit from cleaner water and air, increased species habitat, and increased ecosystem diversity.
- 1 billion people depend on fish for their primary source of protein (World Bank).
- Oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide, generate oxygen, and help regulate the world’s weather patterns. Coastal habitats like mangrove forests and sea grass beds sequester up to five times the carbon that tropical forests store. (World Bank).
- "Nitrogen fertilizer application—a huge source of ocean pollution—has increased fivefold since 1960. The result: 405 “dead zones” covering 95,000 square miles, where most marine life cannot survive." (World Bank).
- As a result of expanding coastal population centers, 35% of global mangrove, 20% of coral reefs, and 30% of sea grass beds have been destroyed. (World Bank).
- About 85% of the world’s ocean fisheries are categorized as fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted. (World Bank).