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Clouded Reflections

Claire Kim

The ominous yet luxurious ocean waters remind us of eternal beauty as the vibrant colors speckle the deep, blue waves. The clear waters, home to many plants and creatures, are now getting clouded by the remains of humans’ neglectful actions. Our oceans have given us nothing but endless opportunities for redemption. It has continued to provide us with food sources, occupations, and livelihoods. Instead of repaying, we have been harming the vulnerable ocean even more. Majestic creatures that once inhabited the waters are fading away as humans’ activities directly influence the reality of our environment. 

"The actions individuals take and ordinances that governments are implementing, are the minimum of the human’s corporate responsibilities."

   The toxic chemicals present in our oceans are the result of physical disturbance from human sources, such as agricultural runoffs and oil spills. These pollutants have a profound effect on marine habitats, altering the water quality and adversely affecting the survival of animals. Over the past decades, oil spills that enter the ocean have led to larger scale pollution. Approximately 2.6 billion liters of waste oil finds its way to the ocean annually, with over 50% of that amount coming from waste disposal and land drainage (Lorenz). Oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals and water-repelling abilities of birds’ feathers (NOAA). As toxic substances accumulate into food chains, it causes deadly changes to the animal’s reproductive system, behavior, and ability to survive. 

   In addition to biological contaminants, habitat degradation due to human population growth and land use changes has played a crucial role in the loss of species. Habitat loss and quality of their habitat worsens as humans uses shoreline armor, a type of structure used to prevent coastal erosion. Loss of spawning habitat, such as kelp and eelgrass beds, can be impacted by changes to both water quality and natural shorelines. For example, during downstream migration, Juvenile salmon are vulnerable to changes in hydrology from urbanization (US EPA). As habitats are lost, biodiversity decreases and subsequently leads to other environmental complications.

   The loss in biodiversity has effects beyond just the loss of individual species. The marine animals are connected to each other in how they adapt to their environment and obtain food for survival. If one species depends on another for food, for example, then the loss of a species will cause a decline in the predatory species. Some species, known as keystone species, help define an entire ecosystem that without them, the ecosystem would dramatically differ or cease to exist altogether (National Geographic). An Ochre Sea Star, for example, keeps the population of mussels and barnacles in check. It helps ensure healthy populations of seaweed species and the other species that feed on them, including sea urchins, snails, and bivalves.

   Fortunately, governments possess the authority to preserve marine life through policies and enforcement. Recently, governments have been taking action such as developing species recovery and management plans and implementing such measures to support declining marine creatures. Congress passed the Marine Mammal  Climate Change Protection Act in March 2023, establishing requirements to protect and monitor the adverse impacts of environmental change on marine mammals. However, as the world’s average temperature continues to increase due to human activities, marine animals are far more vulnerable to endangerment.  

This pond, which used to be a habitat for ducks, small fish, and frogs, has been decimated by plastic pollution.

   The actions individuals take and ordinances that governments are implementing, are the minimum of the human’s corporate responsibilities. Marine life is threatened and diversity of species dwindles with less than two percent of our oceans set aside as marine reserves. Toxic chemicals, habit degradation, and global warming are not only causing marine endangerment, but are also creating irreversible damage to natural and renewable energy sources. The oceans, nature’s ventilators, are givers of oxygen, food sources, and link economies together through trade. Despite the ocean’s coverage of 71% of the Earth’s surface, humans have failed to sustain its beauty. As forgiving nature has been to humans’ reckless actions, we should return the favor as we still have the opportunity to do so. 

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