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Editorial: Troubled waters

World Oceans Day is a free family event coming up Saturday, June 2. It showcases attractions for all ages including a variety of interactive and educational activities related to our oceans and fisheries. For more information, see below.
World Oceans Day was June 8. - Submitted

So, World Oceans Day is over, the beach garbage cleanups done for the year, the tours of ocean facilities are over, and we can move on to this week’s causes: World Blood Donor Day (June 14), Global Wind Day (June 15), and the list goes on.

We can put the world’s oceans aside until next year.

Except we can’t.

The oceans and their fisheries are a major world food source.

Oceans are the Earth’s thermostat and circulatory system. They moderate our temperatures, affect our weather, transport our goods.

And they are in trouble.

There’s an area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the “dead zone,” where urban and agricultural runoff have removed so much oxygen from the ocean that fish and marine life simply die.

This year, the dead zone is expected to be 5,460 square miles — that’s 14,141 square kilometres, or two and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island. And that’s supposedly good news, because it’s smaller this year than when huge hurricane rainfalls pushed oxygen-depleting runoff even further into the Gulf.

Plastics, especially tiny microplastic fragments, are found in every part of the oceans, killing sea life and delivering that same hidden plastic right back to our plates in some seafood. Huge rafts of plastic waste choke the ocean surface, and we can’t even seem to get involved enough to ban single-use plastic bags or unnecessary items like plastic straws. (At least in P.E.I., a private member’s bill just passed third reading, bringing in new fees for plastic bags and a ban in 2020. Other Atlantic provinces like to “seriously consider” bans, without doing much else.)

And then there’s the change in ocean temperatures, which affects everything from the strength of hurricanes to the weather we can expect to the fish we catch.

Some species are moving to stay within their preferred ocean temperature ranges; some simply can’t move fast enough, and their populations are plummeting. The endangered right whale is causing upheaval in Gulf of St. Lawrence crab fisheries as federal authorities try to protect the rare whales. Right whales are new to the gulf, moving as their food sources have moved.

A recent study in the scientific journal PLOS One points out that a warming ocean is likely to force 450 fish and shellfish species to move northwards, with mobile cold-water species moving the furthest. The Alaska King crab is likely to move as much as 900 miles further north. (If a similar thing happens off Canada’s East Coast, at least the right whales won’t be in conflict with crab fishermen anymore, because the crab will have decamped for colder water.)

Yes, World Oceans Day is gone for another year. But ocean problems deserve far more than a day’s thought and action.

Significant parts of our oceans are already gone — and time is running out for the rest.

Read more editorials here.

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