*A choose your own adventure story and an evolving narrative as told by the Ocean…
Humans, arguably the most dominant species on our planet, have had a rich relationship with me for thousands of years. Nearly all living things have relied on me for life, in fact the first form of life was created beneath my waves billions of years ago. Since their evolution, humans have relied on me for food, recreation, and resources and I have given of them freely. But lately, our relationship has seemed more ‘give and take,’ more parasitic. I continue to provide for them, but they continue to abuse me, albeit unintentional at times. To provide food, clothing, and all other necessities of life to the growing human population is no easy task. But continuing to draw upon me for all of those resources could end in unforeseen disaster.
But rising human generations have heard this warning cry. They have heard of the ever declining resources found within my depths and they have seen the effects that their pollution and over-fishing have caused. It is not too late and I have hope that humans can turn things around and that our relationship will be mutually beneficial once again. However, it is not enough to just see and hear. What will these young humans do with that knowledge?
When they are asked to support big businesses that dive too deep into my body for resources, will they do it? (*See outcome #1)
When they are asked to take a stand in this fight for conservation, will they simply sit on their hands and watch? (*See outcome #2)
Or will they support the rallying cry for conservation and lead by example? (*See outcome #3)
OUTCOME #1: My body houses all forms of life. From the tiniest of life-forms to the largest of fish, all living things within my depths rely on each other to survive. Vast beautiful ecosystems like the coral reefs and kelp forests flourish and provide life for literally millions of different species. As beautiful as they are, they are also quite fragile. Hunt one too many sea otter for their prized pelt, then the kelp forest may collapse due to the excess of sea urchin populations. Sea urchins feed voraciously on kelp forests and without sea otters to keep their populations in check, the kelp forests succumb to their deadly fate. Hunt for one too many whale, and watch a wide range of aquatic life suffer that rely on the whale for protection, transportation, and even nutrients. As the whale travels vast distances and produces large quantities of waste which other fish may use for resource. There are so many forms of aquatic life that possess very unique traits that are critical for the survival of countless other species. Take away one or two of those traits from my grasps and the ripple effect could be huge.
The rising human generation is greatly influenced by money, fame, and power. The promise of wealth if they follow a destructive path is too enticing. Once humans have obtained such riches and power, it can be very hard to look outside and see the harm it causes to other life-forms all around them. So, being thus swayed by money, humans usher in the ‘Anthropocene’ epoch (a period of time represented by the change in climate and ecosystems due to man-made processes) and the rising generation, being promised wealth and glory, follows suit. Kelp is harvested. Fish of all kinds are being hunted for valuable resources. They plunge drills deep into my body to search for energy sources which greatly pollute my tides. The aftermath is devastating and after a number of years the next rising generation ushers in an extinction event comparable to ones in Earth’s ancient past. The great ocean which I once was, is now a lifeless shell of the past and life on the land will likewise suffer.
OUTCOME #2: Multiple warning cries have sounded and the rising generation has heard these cries and has seen the life within my waves suffer during the Anthropocene epoch. They see many opportunities to make a difference. “Ocean life is beautiful,” they say. But they don’t much care to leave their house to join in this fight for conservation. “Best to leave this battle to those that have the time and knowledge,” they say, with trash crammed in the gutter next to their yard and plastic grocery bags filling their dumpster. Though there is a fight for conservation in this generation, it is not enough to save a few key ocean species from going extinct. For example, the extinction of the Green Sea Turtle and its unique abilities to migrate long distances, contribute greatly to nutrient cycling from its migration distance and herbivorous diet, have caused the extinction of other unforeseen species. As well, the extinction of the Giant Clam, and its unique diet of plankton and its sessile lifestyle at the bottom of the sea, have caused the extinction of even more unforeseen species. Even with some conservation efforts, ecosystems within my depths are not able to recover from the extinction of just a few key species.
OUTCOME #3: The rising generation is well educated and has seen, first-hand, how the extinction of just one keystone species within my body can cause drastic changes to aquatic and terrestrial life. They know that as the Anthropocene Epoch drags on unchanging, with its climate change and overharvesting habits, it will cause major negative changes to the Earth. This rising generation realizes that it is not enough to just sit on the couch and be a passive supporter. They jump right into the front lines. They teach others what they know about the changing ocean ecosystems. They help to fight pollution by being more conscious of their daily decisions to recycle, use less plastic waste, and support local leaders that also fight for conservation. This rising generation also knows that it is not enough to just focus on pollution and climate change, but to keep a close eye on these key, unique species within my waves that help keep aquatic ecosystems running smoothly. They realize that about one-third of marine megafauna (Aquatic life that is large in size) are at risk of going extinct if these exploitative, pollutant human behaviors continue.
I have just outlined an ever-evolving narrative between me (the Ocean) and you (mankind). It is not too late to save our relationship. A flourishing ocean is not just beautiful to behold, but also beneficial to all life on this planet. Follow “OUTCOME #3” in the above story for the best possible result. My life, and yours, may depend on it.
*I used data and materials from this intriguing research paper when writing this blog post. This research paper just came out a week ago and I highly recommend you give it a look: “Functional Diversity of Marine Megafauna in the Anthropocene”
THANK YOU for reading! Please comment below and let me know how I am doing to help you see your world through the intriguing lens of science.