Today is World Oceans Day, a UN event designed to raise awareness about the world’s oceans and seas. This has me thinking of a recent experience.
Just a few days ago I had dinner with several old friends. One of them considers Oregon her home even though she is currently living in the Midwest due to family issues.
She had been so excited to return to Oregon for a couple of weeks and made a point to get out to the ocean with her two young children. One of their favorite things is exploring tide pools, especially spotting the colorful starfish.
During dinner she told us with tremendous disappointment that she and her children hadn’t been able to find a single starfish. They had looked in multiple places and even gone out at different tide levels to try to find the colorful creatures. No luck.
I and another friend who is also an environmentalist explained that that was because the starfishes had been wiped out by a wasting disease. They develop sores and then just disintegrate into a pile us mush. Scientists know the culprit is a densovirus. However, the virus has been around for decades and the question is why it has suddenly exploded into the largest marine disease outbreak ever recorded? Scientists suspect that warmer waters due to climate change and ocean acidification are likely behind the epidemic.
A relatively small group of us have been trying to raise awareness about ocean acidification for several years now. The oceans are acidifying due to the massive amounts of carbon they have soaked up since the industrial revolution. Yet another reason to aggressively move beyond fossil fuels.
My starfish-loving friend was shocked. She is a smart, highly-educated person who loves the ocean and the coast but she hadn’t heard anything at all about the die-off of starfish.
As a lifelong environmentalist I found the exchange sad and all too familiar. Because we are all so busy and environmental issues rarely rise above the din of media coverage about celebrities, shootings and political campaigns, even highly concerned and educated people rarely realize how much we are losing until it hits them personally.
My friend’s sadness about the loss of starfish is a poignant example of how we often take Nature for granted until a piece of her goes missing. Our oceans are facing a tremendous juggernaut of cumulative pressures including, overfishing, global warming and acidification, tremendous amounts of plastic trash throughout the marine food web and even massive noise pollution. There are ways to address each of these pressures if we, as a species choose to do so.
Oceans cover 70 percent of our planet. As oceans go, so go we.