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Articles Blog

Looking to the Sea

Karyn Planett

Is it the Answer?

We hear about forests ablaze in the Western U.S. and rivers cresting their banks in Europe and Asia after Biblical rains.  We see images of people in all reaches of the globe struggling to eke out a meager existence in soils long depleted of nutrients, and animals nibbling at the withered vestiges of feed scattered among the rocks.

Must we look to the sea for answers on how to fill the world’s bread baskets while the land recovers?  Will it provide for more than just human consumption and animal fodder?  What lurks below us as we sail merrily along the waves?  Could it be the answer to many woes

Brimming with Riches

The oceans wash over nearly three-fourths of the world’s surface.  Hidden in the dark waters are a wealth of minerals and marine life of endless variety.  Fish and marine mammals inhabit the waters and are considered pelagic forms of marine life.  In contrast are the crustaceans and mollusks, as well as corals, which cling to the ocean floor.  They are the benthic variety of marine life.  Add to that the kelps and other marine plants that man has cleverly harvested for fertilizer, human consumption, and animal feed.

The seas are rich with minerals including gas and petroleum.  As our journeys take us around the world we see oil-drilling platforms designed to extract these precious commodities.  Scientists employ sophisticated equipment to map the contours of the ocean floors and discover exactly where to search.  Today, wells for natural gas deposits have been drilled in Brazil’s Marlim field to a depth of nearly 6,000 feet.  Who knows what lies even deeper?

The governments with coastal land have drawn up laws to protect these resources.  In many cases the United Nations’ Law Of The Sea Convention declares that a boundary of 22 kilometers rings the shoreline and is considered “territorial” and the rights of the host country are to be respected.  In other instances, something called “exclusive economic zones” form a boundary that stretches from the coast to an imaginary line 370 nautical miles offshore.  Note for the record that the host country occasionally sells these rights to other nations.

Bringing in the Catch

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed wetting a line and hoping to catch the “big one?”  Sport fishing is an adventure many travelers partake in as they visit new countries.  Sometimes they discover what local fishermen already know… the seas are often overfished.  Fished out.

For example, the Canadian cod industry has been hit hard as has the haddock take in the North Pacific.  In some cases, nearly 90% of the fish have been taken.  This results in economic hardship and unemployment for local fishermen.  The bluefin tuna is another example.  Some estimates put the decline in certain areas of the Southern Hemisphere at over 90%.

Regarding the issue of whaling, this remains a hot debate.  Suffice to say those species that were nearly hunted to extinction – right, gray, and bowhead – have managed to hold on if only for a while.  Others are protected in an area of the Southern Ocean considered to be a sanctuary for approximately 90% of the total population of whales.

Thankfully, the practice of aquaculture has been successful.  Consider the progress being made in such areas as oyster breeding, shellfish farming if you prefer.  Salmon farming in the Outer Hebrides has seen great returns.  And Japan’s Inland Sea is another success story.  Clever fish farmers have strung metal nets across vast reaches of this body of water and created a huge area where fish breeding is done.  And let’s not forget kelp’s contribution to the world’s increasing need for food and feed.

Dangers all Around

Pollution puts all this waterworld at risk.  As we sail the globe, we’ll observe that there are many nations without the financial means or current technology to protect their waters.  The seas serve as their dumping grounds.  In addition, factory discharge as well as the run-off from other chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides further disrupts the delicate balance of the seas.  The occasional oil spill is often catastrophic.

So where does this all leave us?  We will see first hand how bountiful yet how fragile our oceans are.  As travelers of the sea we salute it and all its rewards.  And we look to the future when the tides can create power for our cities, when desalinated water can replenish our aquifers, and when the fish and marine life can be harvested responsibly to help feed the world’s growing population.

All the while, it is a glorious means of travel don’t you think?