5 Ways the Ocean Can Help Us

It’s easy to understand why many smart people around the world consider the ocean to be at great risk today, thanks to a well-known handful of threats ranging from overfishing to the impact of climate change to acidification to plastic pollution.

Photo: bredgur/Creative Commons via Flickr

But a variety of those same smart people have some new thoughts on how we might better protect the ocean and its marine life and even tap it as a resource to improve some other planetary needs.

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pinpoints four percent of the planet’s ocean which—if set aside as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)—would sufficiently protect the most at-risk marine mammal species.

Scientists from Stanford and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico identified which four percent by layering maps of where the planet’s 129 marine mammals (seals, dolphins and polar bears) are found in most abundance and identified 20 ocean regions where they live. They went on to suggest that by protecting just nine of those 20 regions, locations with the highest “species richness,” 84 percent of the planet’s most at-risk marine mammals would be living under some kind of protection. The areas they encouraged to be protected were off the coasts of Baja, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
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Meanwhile, over at the On Project (sponsored by the Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation), some clean thinkers are seeing the ocean less as one big mess and more as one big problem solver. Here are five ways they think the ocean can be tapped:

1) Clean Energy: Considered by some as “the other white meat” of alternative energy, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is now available to harness the power of the ocean and produce clean base-load (24/7) energy.

2) Clean Drinking Water: According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people do not have access to clean drinking water. Every day patients suffering from diseases associated with dirty drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene occupy half of the world’s hospital beds. Through desalination, powered by clean electricity from an OTEC plant, the ocean can provide clean drinking water for people around the world.

3) Aquaculture: The ocean offers great potential for food production in many areas of the world. With sustainable practices, food security and environmental costs can be balanced.

4) Unemployment: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 1 of every 6 jobs in the United States is marine-related, including careers in the fishing, tourism, recreation, energy and ocean transport industries.

5) Air Conditioning: Using cold, deep seawater in place of polluting standard refrigerants, the ocean supplies a clean method of air-conditioning that reduces electricity usage by up to 90 percent when compared to conventional cooling methods.

Currently less than one percent of the planet’s ocean is protected by MPAs; it’s clear that the more ocean we set-aside in protected areas—just like we do on land, in parks and wilderness areas—the better for endangered species and wild fish. And maybe if we begin to think of the planet’s one big ocean as a resource rather than a giant trashcan, it can actually help us.

(For the rest of my dispatches go to takepart.com)

Posted in Clean Water, Energy Policy, Fish Farms, Water Crisis

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