Why the Ocean Matters

Unveiling the Crucial Role of Our Oceans in Sustaining Life and Ecosystems

Pioneering marine biologist Sylvia Earle once stated, “With every drop of water you drink and every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.”

As an oceanographer, author, explorer, and lecturer, Earle knows well about what she speaks. She understands the hazards posed to our environment from pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction.  With increased boating activity and the depletion of fish stocks, the ocean and its inhabitants are exposed to innumerable life-threatening dangers.

Education is the most important tool in turning the tide on oceanic health. Understanding the delicate balance between the well-being of the oceans and humans can help protect and preserve the ocean’s life-giving powers. The vast ocean remains the planet’s most important asset, as it holds 80 percent of the Earth’s living things and spans millions of miles of rich, dynamic ecosystems. To help put it into perspective, consider that the depth of the Mariana Trench (in the Western Pacific Ocean) is a mile and a half longer than the height of Mount Everest. 

Here are five ways in which the ocean has an impact on us no matter where we call home:

1

The ocean regulates our climate and provides us with the air we breathe

Our ocean absorbs about 25 percent of all carbon emissions (cement production, deforestation, burning fossil fuels) and  generates about 50 percent of the oxygen we need. Oceans are essentially the lungs of our planet and regulate temperatures on land by taking in more than 90 percent of the climate’s excess heat.

2

The ocean feeds us

Seafood is a major source of protein for billions of people However, destructive fishing practices mean more than 10 million tons of fish go to waste annually. We must protect marine life to ensure future food security. If we continue our current practices, experts predict more than 50 percent of global marine species may face extinction by the year 2100.

3

Provides jobs and livelihoods

About 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihood (about 50 percent of the world’s population). In particular, fisheries provide 57 million jobs. However, our current practices lead to the degradation of more than 60 percent of the world’s major marine ecosystems. Additionally, 11 million tons of plastic enter the ocean annually resulting in approximately $13 billion in cleanup costs.

4

The ocean is a tool for economic development

Ocean economies are among the most rapidly growing in the world. Delaware receives about $4 billion annually based on tourism, the majority driven by our coastal cities and towns. With ocean levels rising as the global temperature increases, coastline-specific tourism is at risk, as are the 680 million people who live in low-lying coastal areas. This number is expected to rise to one billion by 2050.

5

We need a healthy ocean to survive

Regardless of where you live, the ocean plays a part in your quality of life. It provides climate stability, food, livelihoods, and future economic progress. It is our responsibility to protect the ocean and its inhabitants.

To learn more about the state of our ocean and how you can help, please visit the following sites:

MERR Institute: merrinstitute.org

Oceana: oceana.org

The Ocean Conservancy: oceanconservancy.org

The Nature Conservancy: nature.org

WWF: worldwildlife.org/initiatives/oceans

If you encounter a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, contact MERR Institute at (302) 864.0304 or email merrinstitute@gmail.com. MERR is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles and their habitat. MERR provides rescue and response for stranded marine animals that occur throughout the State of Delaware. 


Rob Rector, Naturalist, MERR Institute, has served as naturalist and board member for 20 years, is a certified Protected Species Observer, and leads weekly dolphin observation tours that use citizen science to gather information on our local Bottlenose Dolphin populations.

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