Standing at the edge of a vast ocean, it’s hard not to be moved. All you see is the surface of this enormous space, an ever-changing landscape stretching before you for hundreds of thousands of miles. But what’s happening beneath is largely unknown as you look out across the crests and troughs of waves.
As a vegan company that promotes an end to overfishing, Simris loves the ocean. So, to mark our 10th birthday, we thought we’d take a look at what exactly is happening below the surface of the ocean and how it’s changed in the last 10 years. A then and now of the deep blue, if you will – at least as far as is possible given how much life under the sea is still a mystery.
REACHING NEW DEPTHS
This last decade brought ocean exploration to deeper depths than ever before via a sturdy submersible called The Limiting Factor. In May 2019, 53-year-old Victor Vescovo braved immense pressure (about 1,000 times that of the earth’s atmosphere) as he journeyed 35,850 feet – nearly 7 miles! – below the surface to the deepest known point in the world’s oceans: a depression called Challenger Deep.
Located at the southern part of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, Challenger Deep revealed four new species of prawn-like crustaceans as well as a scattering of plastic debris floating around this distant frontier. An amazing feat of ocean discovery, and a disappointing revelation. Unfortunately, the deep sea is far from the only place where plastic can be found...
Plastic, Plastic Everywhere
Our oceans are full of the synthetic material that is plastic. Tragically, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. These pieces of plastic often end up either along the shore or in one of several humongous, rotating whirlpools that are found in the oceans. The whirlpools – called gyres – are formed from ocean currents and wind patterns, and the largest one (located between California and Hawaii) is estimated to measure three times the size of France. It’s difficult to fathom a swirling mass of plastic pieces that size, but our oceans and its creatures are living the unimaginable every day.
While plastic seas and coastlines are truly disastrous, there are some positive changes happening. The recycling of global plastic waste has gone from negligible in 1980 to about 9 percent in 2019. While this is a promising trend, we must do more, especially when it comes to reducing our waste and replacing our use of unsustainable materials with sustainable ones.
This year marks a decade since 9-year-old Milo Cress’ “Be Straw Free” campaign was launched. Cress’ inspiring movement has received widespread support and prompted global action to cut down on this single-use plastic. By simply offering customers at restaurants a straw instead of giving them one automatically, it’s been found that between 50 and 80 percent of diners decline. Similar campaigns toward reducing the use of plastic bags have followed suit. Stock in metal straws and reusable bags has never been so good.
TEMPERATURES ON THE RISE
It’s been a hot decade. The hottest on record. And along with everything else, our oceans are feeling the heat. In fact, since the 1970s, the ocean has absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat that’s been trapped within our atmosphere by human-caused climate change. Granted the ocean has a lot of water to absorb that heat, but the intensity has still managed to raise its temperature by 0.11°C per decade in the uppermost layer. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 24 percent faster than a few decades earlier. And the impact is devastating.
Warm water takes up more space than cold water, causing sea levels to rise alongside the temperature. Ocean warming is conducive to the development of stronger storms: they can intensify faster, emit higher volumes of rain and build up more powerful winds.
The impact of warm water on the ocean’s inhabitants is also detrimental – most aquatic life can be found in the shallower areas of the ocean (which are those most affected by temperature changes) and many are sensitive to even the smallest variations. For instance, a rise of just one degree Celsius can stress coral to the point that they spit out the symbiotic algae that lives inside them. This bleaching process destroys both the coral and the vibrancy of life that surrounds it.
UNCOVERING THE RAINFORESTS OF THE SEA
Speaking of coral reefs, the decade has brought with it several discoveries when it comes to these magnificent ecosystems. It was previously thought that they could only exist in clear, salt water within close proximity to the coast. However, in 2016, a reef measuring over 3,600 square miles in area was discovered in some of the muddiest waters in the world: at the mouth of Brazil's Amazon River. We tip our hats to the scientists who made this revelation – but probably won’t be signing up to scuba dive there anytime soon.
A couple of years later, an 85-mile-long coral reef was found 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina, disbanding the widely held belief that reefs can only grow close to the coast. And just last year, a 500-meter tall coral reef was found off the coast of northern Australia, the first of its kind to be discovered in the last 120 years. Apparently underwater skyscrapers aren’t just a thing of the future.
WHALE SONGS & THE OCEAN FLOOR
People have always been interested in learning more about the ocean floor. However, mapping it out poses some challenges. Seismic guns are usually the chosen method, but their extremely loud blasts can harm aquatic mammals in the vicinity. That’s why a recent study has scientists hoping for a better alternative. The study revealed that the powerful sound waves of whale’s songs can actually provide a wealth of information about the ocean floor, such as the thickness and seismic velocity of its sediment. Fin whales are especially useful for this purpose, as their songs are incredibly loud and can go on for hours at a time!
There are two things for certain when it comes to our oceans. First off, despite the fact that they make up the vast majority of the Earth, there is so much we still don’t know about them. And second, they’re in danger. Of what we’re putting into them and what we’re taking out of them.
But there are good things happening that point toward a promising future for the marine world. Just in the past decade, our oceans are more protected than they’ve ever been; new ways of protecting sea life are being developed; and an awareness of the problems our oceans are facing is on the rise. It’s not only the ocean’s survival that relies on what we do now – it’s our own survival as well. Spread the word, take action, and let’s make the next decade one of happier, cleaner oceans.