World Oceans Day: Fighting for healthy oceans

Creative Commons: Jean Wimmerlin

It is difficult to be a conservationist in my lifetime. Every single day I hesitate opening the news because I fear that someone will show us yet another ecological catastrophe, to be added to the litany of horrors we’ve been accumulating like plastic in the ocean. Last week, the photos of a whale dying after having eaten 80 plastic bags, probably mistaking them as food, made me cry.

It is difficult to be optimistic about the ocean in my lifetime, but I cannot stop fighting. I’ve seen plastic waste build up in the most remote places in the ocean during our Pristine Seas expeditions, coral reefs die after warming events, seas become empty of fish because of blind overexploitation. But I cannot stop fighting. This June 8, World Oceans Day, is the only day many people will think of the ocean, even though ocean microbes and plants produce the oxygen we breath every four seconds. The ocean also gives us about 100 millions metric tonnes of seafood every year, living reefs protect our coast from the destructive power of storm waves, and the global ocean absorbs much of the heat and the carbon pollution we throw in the atmosphere. Yet last week, a survey among political leaders showed that the ocean was the lowest priority when it comes to solving the world’s problems. Most humans are more worried about the human construct – the economy, jobs – than about the natural system that supports life on this planet, ignoring that the sacred economy, and our lives, is supported by that very natural world. There are no markets on the Moon or Venus for a reason. 

I think of the ocean daily, continuously, and agonize when I see marine life disappear – and know that most marine life is disappearing without us seeing it, or even knowing it. But I cannot stop fighting because I have seen the ocean fight back when we give it a chance. I have seen fishes, lobsters, and entire underwater forests come back – spectacularly – when we give them space. When we don’t kill the fish, they grow larger and produce more babies, replenishing their populations. It is like seeing a forest come back after it’s been devastated by fire. Seeing the capacity of the ocean to regenerate gives me hope. But today, only two percent of the ocean is fully protected from us. We know what works; we just need the political will and the vision to protect much more of our waters. 

That’s why I am proud to partner with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. They are fighting to make the world a better place for everyone, including for those bound to destroy it for short-term economic gain. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is working to change the way we produce energy and food, and to give the natural world more space, so it can continue providing for us. I work with LDF on the latter, inspiring leaders to protect ocean wildernesses, and hope that those working against climate change and plastic pollution will be successful in my lifetime. My team at National Geographic Pristine Seas can win some battles, but to win the war we need everybody. That’s why this Ocean Day, we need you to say ‘enough’ and join us in the fight.

Last updated June 6, 2018

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