Written by: on June 8, 2020 @ 6:00 am

Earth’s surface is covered in water, making around 71% of the planet ocean water. Earth’s oceans are our largest ecosystem, home to more than 2 million estimated species. Marine plants provide our planet with almost 70% of our oxygen we breathe, and ocean animals provide for a sixth of all animal protein humans consume. If our planet relies on our oceans so heavily, why do we need ocean conservation holidays like World Oceans Day? Unfortunately, human actions are tarnishing this extensive biome.

Pollution and global warming are killing ocean animal and plant life. Most ocean pollution begins on land through runoff that makes its way into the ocean, this is called nonpoint source pollution. Chemicals produced by cars, trucks, boats, farms, and ranches make their way into streams and rivers, eventually ending up in the ocean. Marine debris like abandoned vessels, fishing gear, and plastic are of grave danger to ocean animals. An estimated 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic pollution are entering our oceans each year. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and are killed after ingesting the plastic, or animals become entangled in discarded fishing nets. Garbage patches, large collections of trash in the ocean, create floating garbage islands in our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 1.6 million square kilometres large, twice the size the state of Texas. We humans are the cause of the ocean’s pollution problem, so it becomes our duty to solve it.

Nearly all species of sea turtle are endangered, the hawksbill, green and loggerhead sea turtles are considered critically endangered. Sea turtles have explored our oceans for more than 110 million years, having been alive alongside the dinosaurs! Sea turtles are poached for their eggs, shells, and meat, and are frequent victims of bycatching, being caught in fishing gear accidentally. Climate change is affecting the natural incubation rates of sea turtle eggs, which effects the sex ratios of their hatchlings. If turtle eggs incubate below 81.86⁰F, hatchlings will be male, while eggs incubating above 87.8⁰F yields female hatchlings. In addition to sea turtles, alligator and crocodile offspring sex is determined by temperature, and climate is affecting the populations of these reptiles. 

Cetaceans is a collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises, a family of marine mammals. The group includes 14 species of baleen whales (whales with keratin plates instead of teeth which allow them to filter feed), 3 sperm whales,  22 beaked whales, 7 porpoises, 38 dolphins, 4 river dolphins, and the beluga and narwhal. Cetaceans are one of the most distinct and highly specialized orders of mammals; the blue whale being the largest animal to ever live and the highly intelligent and communicative dolphins. Like humans, cetaceans breathe air, nurse their young, and give live birth.

Due to human activity such as hunting and pollution, most cetacean species are endangered. In previous years, whale populations have suffered due to hunting for their blubber, which was used for oil to burn in lamps or to manufacture makeup. Thousands of dolphins and porpoises die each year after being trapped in fishing nets, or from pollution and toxins impairing their ability to fight disease. In recent years, movements have raised awareness to save whales from hunting, but climate change is the largest threat to all underwater species.

Threats to marine species are difficult to perceive being that they live their majority of their lives underwater, out of sight. These animals have evolved over million of years, and have begun to vanish from ecosystems they have flourished in. The Endangered Species act has acted to salvage ocean life, promote awareness, and change human behavior to make a difference for endangered ocean species. We must work to change the threats facing ocean life, to make a better life for the species of our planet and for the future of humanity.

Celebrate marine life by learning more about them! High Touch High Tech has a Make a Coral Reef experiment to take a closer, hands-on look at another endangered, underwater sea creature! Find that experiment at : https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/coral-reef.pdf

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