Oceans – The Ultimate Canvas


Oceans – The Ultimate Canvas

Editor’s Note: This essay by young Jacob Parayil, Class of 2021 has been awarded the Silver medal at the Queens  Commonwealth Essay Competition, whuch was held  in June 2020. The theme for the competition was “Climate Action and the Commonwealth”, drawing on the increasing youth movement across the Commonwealth and the ongoing climate crisis.. Young people are called upon to use any form of creative writing to consider their position and power in bringing about change, and how the Commonwealth can be used as a tool for positive action.

Jacob wrote about “Oceans” and their subsequent contamination and also explained about other factors in the destruction of the ocean bed thereby affecting the aquatic creatures. 

The majestic, vast, shimmering blue mirrors have been on our planet from time immemorial. They are a reflection of the planet as a whole, and many theories of the origin of life recognize the vast blue expanse as the father of life. For centuries scientists, artists, and the common man have been intrigued by the surface of the ocean, as well as the mystery that lies beneath those rippling waters.

The oceans are responsible for life on Earth. They absorb most of the heat from the Sun, so that surface temperatures are suitable for life. Thanks to ideal temperatures, plants can grow, supplying oxygen in the air by the process of photosynthesis, for all animals to breathe. In addition, the oceans contain a rich and diverse ecosystem, which in turn provides a source for food to the creatures on the surface. An example of this starts with the phytoplankton, a plant found in the ocean. These make their food by the process of photosynthesis. Small fish feed on them, and in turn these are eaten by larger fish. Larger fish are consumed by human beings. This is just one example of the many food chains that form the intricate food web of the Earth, allowing a natural flow of energy from one organism to another. Indeed, if it weren’t for the oceans, life would not be possible.

Besides incubating a bulk of the human diet, the oceans also help us in many other ways. As fish are in demand, people are needed to catch them and process them so that they are fit for human beings. Thus, jobs are created, and many people earn their livelihood from the marine industry. In addition, the presence of exotic and beautiful species makes the ocean a giant natural reserve, which offers a road to economic development for many countries in the form of tourism. Some countries in the Middle East use a process called desalination (the process of filtering the salt from ocean water) to obtain their drinking water. A vast portion of our oceans remain undiscovered. If these were explored, new substances could be found, with some of the possible uses ranging from industry to medicine. The oceans are a priceless resource. 

Sadly, our oceans are being contaminated, thanks to various forms of pollution. Excess pesticides and chemical fertilizers find their way into oceans and other water bodies, where they cause eutrophication-the exponential growth of algae. When the algae die, they are decomposed by bacteria, which use up all the oxygen in the water, starving fish and other aquatic organisms of oxygen. The result is a dead zone-an area where no species can thrive. However, eutrophication doesn’t just harm animals, it hurts humans too. Shellfish feed on microbes associated with algae. These microbes, which may be present in the shellfish even while we consume them, are toxic and can potentially be fatal.

But eutrophication isn’t the only bane of the ocean. We have polluted the waters with enormous amounts of plastic, which are consumed by sea creatures. Unknown to them is the dangers of plastic to their bodies-plastic may block their airways, suffocating them, and they drown in their own habitat. Plastic could also affect digestion, leading these creatures to think that they have all the energy and nutrients they require, when this is the farthest from the truth. As predator eats prey in the gruelling arena of nature, the plastic that was consumed in the prey gets passed on to the predator, and its toxic effects on the ecosystem are amplified-this is called bio-amplification. Plastic also allows for the growth of harmful pathogens, which spread diseases to those in contact with them. Around 1 million seabirds die each year, and this number is projected to get bigger. By 2050, it is estimated that 99 percent of seabird will have consumed plastic. As always, our pollution has a way of ricocheting at us. Many humans depend on fish as a source of nutrients. But along with these fish is a silent killer: the same pieces of plastic that we fed them, only much smaller! These plastics cause digestive and reproductive issues, to name a few. They also cause different types of cancers.  

A vital but undervalued resource within the ocean, coral reefs house around 2 million marine species. They provide habitats for smaller fish to grow, as well as a source of food. Coral reefs can be likened to rainforests in their biodiversity and importance to the planet. Experts estimate that coral reefs contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy. Because they are home t large amounts of fish, they provide an accessible source of protein to those living near it, especially those on islands far from the mainland. Because of their beautiful colors and teeming life, coral reefs attract tourists, which greatly benefits the local economy of the regions near these reefs while providing millions of jobs in the tourism and fishing sectors. But they also protect humans and the terrestrial world from the damaging impact of tsunamis by acting as barriers which reduce the strength of the waves before they hit the coastlines. Another use of corals is being explored: they are being explored as medicine for various ailments like arthritis, cancer, and various bacterial and viral infections.

But they are dying, thanks to global warming. Due to increased temperatures, corals are bleached. Coral reefs are made up of small animals called polyps, which live in harmony with algae. The algae provide the coral with food through the process of photosynthesis, and in turn the coral provides that algae with carbon dioxide and shelter. When corals are exposed to increased temperatures, they give out the algae inside them, which means they have no other source of food. This causes the coral reefs to decolorize(the variety of colors seen on coral reefs are actually due to the algae), and extremely high temperatures or prolonged periods of bleaching may cause them to die, leaving nothing but shriveling, hollow, white shells which serve as ghastly reminders of all the life that used to thrive. There would be much less biodiversity, and the medical sector will lose out on possible cures for various diseases. Millions will lose their jobs and their livelihoods, and there will be very little to stop tsunamis from wreaking massive havoc on the world.

Global warming, while well known for its effects on land, also affects the ocean. As fossil fuels are burned to provide more energy to an ever-growing population, more carbon dioxide is emitted. In an attempt to maintain normal carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the oceans take in more carbon dioxide, which proves fatal. The carbon dioxide itself makes the ocean more acidic, and many marine species are extremely sensitive to changes in the acidity of the water. This proves fatal for them. The carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas, meaning it absorbs heat from the sun. The oceans witness an increase in temperature, with similar consequences for life under the sea. With the elimination of many species of fish comes the problems of famine and poverty. Our food supplies will be hit, and the fishing industry will be stranded at sea. In addition, the biodiversity of the oceans will be diminished. A treasure will be lost.

With all the plastic and debris being dumped, and oil being spilled, not only will the life of the oceans be suffocated, the very essence, the fascinating deep blue of the ocean will be replaced with a pungent, murky, and toxic liquid. The ‘Blue Planet’ will lose its rich blue hue, and the palette of life may be lost. So far, although some planets are showing signs of water, we don’t know if they will support life. This planet is unique because it supports life for a plethora of species. Although we are only one of the vast variety of species on the planet, we have altered it in ways nothing else ever could. Without water, there is no life, and no humanity. 

 4th paragraph: statistics from pewtrusts.org

Photos:Ocean -Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash