We Are Clearcutting Our Oceans, Too

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Dash Masland is a Marine Biologist and National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee, whose passion has been marine mammal conservation for practically her entire life.

The ocean covers 71% of our planet and yet remains 95% unexplored.  What we already know is that the oceans support close to 50% of all life on earth, but imagine what we haven’t yet discovered!  It also happens that 20% of all animal protein that humans consume comes out of the ocean, weighing in at close to 100 million tons of seafood each year.  What does this mean, really?  It means that humans are putting a huge amount of pressure on our ocean ecosystems, all over the world.  Combine that with 1,000’s of different chemicals that are used by humans that eventually end up in the ocean and the amount of trash that has made its way into the water (have you ever heard of the Pacific ocean trash vortex?), means our oceans are in a world of hurt. 

But, really the question is, why is it so hard for us to imagine the severity of the problem?  We see pictures of clear cutting of land for grazing animals, we see the destruction of logging beautiful forests, the cruelty of poaching on endangered animals and we can easily empathize with this devastation.  But what we don’t see are the fishing vessels that are removing the last of the important fish for whales, the bottom trawlers that dig up and destroy the ocean floor, the millions of pounds of fish that are killed each year as bycatch and the millions of turtles, sea birds and marine mammals that are drowned each year by old fishing gear that is drifting through the ocean. 

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I find it so amazing that all this is happening but when we look out over the ocean all we see is the beautiful, rolling seas.  This façade hides the devastation and makes it easier for us to look the other way, or maybe just harder to realize what is actually going on down there.  We can’t visually capture the magnitude of destruction the way we can on land.  But we are clear cutting, mining, logging and poaching our oceans every day.  Why do we hear about it when 3 endangered land mammals are killed in a given year, but when 1 out of every 5 monk seal pups starve to death each year it doesn’t make the news?  And how about the adult seals that are struck by boats or drowned in fishing gear?  With the population decreasing at 4% per year, it is projected that we will loose 44 Hawaiian monk seals in 2011.  That a lot more than 3 and it’s happening all the time.

Marine research is our primary tool to understand what effects we are having on the ocean and how we can try and reverse what is happening.  It is why I am committed to studying marine mammals to try and help stop these magnificent animals from going extinct.  Because if we don’t stop the destruction of our oceans, our entire global climate will change and sea creatures like the Hawaiian monk seal that have been in existence for millions of years will disappear because of us and right before our eyes.