The oceans are not something that many people think of as being the ‘heart and lungs’ of the planet. Although they appear to just be a massive body of salt water, the oceans are the largest and most important ecosystem on the planet. They are responsible for the food we eat, the air we breathe, and contribute massively to the regulation of global climate. The oceans are currently in crisis due to overfishing, human-driven climate change, and extreme pollution.
On Mar. 1, the UW Animal Rights Society, in collaboration with Sea Shepherd, a volunteer organization whose mission is to protect the biodiversity of the ocean, hosted a screening of the documentary Sea of Life. Following this was a Q&A session with the director, Julia Barnes, who was just 16 years old when she began its production.
The oceans have been thriving for 250 million years, hosting over nine million species. However, the documentary brought to light that with the booming human population unsustainably consuming the ocean’s resources, releasing massive amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we are destroying the very thing that gives us life. We are treating fish like a commodity, taking them out of the ocean as though they are an inexhaustible resource, which is false. The oceans are not too large to be exhausted, in fact, it is estimated that 200 species go extinct every day on Earth, many of which are fish species. The massive amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by human activities such as animal farming and fossil fuel use are being absorbed by the ocean. When carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean water, it produces a type of acid, causing the overall acidity of the ocean to increase drastically. As a result, ocean acidification is occurring at a rate that is ten times faster than it has in the past 50 million years.
Coral reefs are the hosts of over one-third of the oceans’ species. Currently, 50 per cent of all coral reefs have gone extinct due to the rapid changes in the ocean’s acidity and temperature. Approximately 90 per cent of the fish that once resided in the ocean are now gone because of over-fishing and human-induced climate change. Furthermore, 40 per cent of all the plankton, which are responsible for half the air we breathe and make up the base of the ocean’s food web, are gone. The oceans are in desperate need of a hero because if our oceans die, then we die.
Documentaries like Sea of Life connect people to nature and allow them to understand that the oceans are in peril. Sarah-Louise Ruder, a master’s student in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, attended the screening and agrees with this.
“The film did a great job of tying together global complex problems from waste, to ocean acidification, to poaching and overfishing,” Ruder said.
Julia Barnes and others working for Sea Sheperd believe that people can understand it, they can care about it and they can fight for the change that the world needs because ultimately, politicians do not enact the needed change — passionate people do. Our generation is the one that will suffer for what governments have not been doing and are not doing today.
“Action is not an option it is a necessity; let the size of the problem motivate you,” Barnes said.