Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Happy Earth Day 2019!

The colorful kelp forest atop Cashes Ledge flows in the ocean current. Photo credit: Brian Skerry.

It’s Earth Day – the perfect opportunity to take a moment to appreciate our environment for all its wonder and beauty. More importantly, it’s a day to think about what each of us can do to leave the Earth just a little better than how we found it.

From vibrant sunflower fields to the White Mountains to local apple orchards, there is so much to love about New England, but we wouldn’t be anywhere without our ocean. It was our region’s abundant fisheries that supported the first European colonists and fostered the maritime culture that defines New England to this day. And today, our coastal economy relies on local ocean-related businesses from whale watching to surf shops to recreational fishing.

Earth Day, in our opinion, is one of the most important holidays (many are even trying to make it a national holiday), but it takes more than one day to drive effective change. Keeping the big blue in mind, here are five ways you can help make a difference:

1. Reduce plastic use.

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our ocean and marine life today. With 8 millions tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, it’s estimated that plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. Through ingestion or entanglement, plastic in the ocean can seriously harm and even kill marine life. You may already be skipping the straw, but there are many other ways to reduce single-use plastic in your daily life, and simply being aware is a good first step.

2. Reduce carbon emissions.

Our ocean and coastal communities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. The excess carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels and absorbed by the ocean has led to warmer waters and increased acidity levels, which is changing geographic ranges of fish populations, predator-prey relationships, reproduction and development of certain species, and more. As a society we must transition towards renewable energy sources and fight back any attempts to expand offshore oil and gas development off our coast.

3. Eat sustainable seafood.

The United States has some of the most sustainable seafood in the world thanks to our strong federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. But some fish populations, such as Atlantic cod in New England, are still struggling to recover from years of overfishing. Eating seafood is a healthy food option that can help reduce your carbon footprint, but make sure to choose fish that are healthy for both you and the environment.

4. Support protected areas.

Research shows that protected areas can help marine life and habitats be more resilient to ecological change, and scientists say we should aim to protect at least 30 percent of marine habitat by 2030. Right now, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the only fully protected area in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean but even its protection is in jeopardy. We need to ask our elected officials to support increased protections for ocean habitat to give marine life a fighting chance against a rapidly changing ecosystem.

5. Be kind to each other.

OK, it’s a cheesy one and doesn’t exactly relate to the ocean. But we are all humans just trying to do our part, and life is too short to not treat each other with kindness and respect. Most of all, we cannot do this alone.


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