The Science of Oceans: Uncovering the Diversity and Fragility of Marine Ecosystems
The oceans of the world provide us with sustenance, knowledge and recreation. Whether by introduction through studies in marine science, a family trip to one of the many beaches or harbors scattered across our planet, or a glimpse of a distant submarine cable or oil platform, humans have always been connected to the great bodies of waters that cover 71 percent of our planet.
Yet despite centuries of exploration, vast areas of the ocean remain unknown to us. The deep sea is home to many new species of oceanic creatures, and the powerful forces of the ocean are still an enigma to many. As technological advancements enable more exploration of the sea, marine science continues to expand our knowledge and understanding of the oceanic environment.
This article provides an introduction to the science of oceans. It will explore the immense diversity of marine ecosystems, discuss how human activities increasingly threaten these fragile ecosystems, and delve into how new technologies are essential for enhancing and preserving them.
The Immensely Diverse Ecosystems of the Oceans
The ocean is home to perhaps the most immense diversity of any environment on Earth. The ocean provides a habitat to over 230,000 species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, but scientists foresee that the number is likely much higher when those that have yet to be discovered are taken into account.
The diversity of oceanic ecosystems ranges from coastal mangrove forests, where the speed of the tides create a distinct environment, to the depths of the abyssal plains, which experience little or no current. The great coral reefs of the world are perhaps the most visible example of a complex and diverse ecosystem, with thousands of species of fish, plants, and invertebrates inhabiting its wide expanse, playing a major role in nutrient circulation and the health of the oceans.
The Threats to Marine Ecosystems
Unfortunately, the remarkable diversity of marine ecosystems is increasingly threatened by human activities. Pollutants from runoff, emissions from boats, and overfishing all play a role in damaging oceanic environments, with coral reefs on the frontline of many of these threats.
Climate change is also a major threat to ocean ecosystems, with more frequent and severe storms delivering higher levels of erosion, ocean acidification and desalination, as well as rising temperatures that can decrease the oxygen and nutrient levels in the ocean. Pollution, too, is a major factor in the health of the ocean. Runoff from agricultural and industrial activities can leach pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and toxins into the ocean and disrupt the delicate balance of oceanic ecosystems.
Monitoring and Enforcement
Great effort is needed to protect and preserve marine ecosystems. To do so, governments and organizations alike have been exploring innovative ways to monitor and enforce policies within the ocean to curb human activities that have been found to pose a threat to the health of the oceanic environment.
Monitoring efforts include satellite imaging technologies and ocean sensors. Satellite imaging has been used to track the location and status of oceanic species, as in the case of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s WhaleWatch program. Meanwhile, specialized sensors have been deployed to track changes in ocean temperatures and currents.
Compliance measures such as closures of fishing grounds and new regulations for recreational and commercial fishing have been implemented to aid in protecting fragile ocean ecosystems.
The Role of Technology
As with monitoring and enforcement, new innovative technologies will also be essential for protecting and preserving marine ecosystems. Advanced detection and tracking technologies are being explored by industries, namely the oil and gas industry, as potential options for surveying and tracking species in a more efficient manner.
Furthermore, such technologies can be used to identify illegal fishing activity, as would be the case with the Fisheries Enforcement Monitoring Network, which will make use of high-frequency tracking technologies to detect signal interference around protected areas.
In addition, autonomous underwater vehicles are becoming more and more capable when it comes to surveying and monitoring the ocean. Autonomous vehicles, also known as drones, can be used to monitor, analyze, and even clean up the ocean, helping to keep oceanic ecosystems healthy and undamaged.
Oceans are essential for all life on Earth. The immense diversity and fragility of marine ecosystems is something that needs to be respected and protected in order to ensure the health of the planet. As more advancements in technology are made, researchers and conservation efforts are utilizing this to help monitor and protect oceanic ecosystems. With continued effort and innovation, we will be able to better understand and preserve marine ecosystems for years to come.