The ocean is incredibly important to all life on earth. Significant elements of the food chain live in the ocean, and pollution threatens to decimate large amounts of marine life over the next hundred years.
Roughly three billion people earn their living from in some way interacting with the ocean, and it faces an existential threat due to manmade pollution. Many governments, marine organisations, and scientific communities are calling for the marine industry to cut all emissions by 2050, or the marine ecosystem could be irreversibly damaged.
The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If temperatures were to rise to 2 degrees higher, just half a degree higher, this would result in almost all tropical reefs being destroyed, and half the amount of fish being caught globally due to lower numbers.
The window to achieve what the Paris Agreement sets out must be achieved within the next 12 years, or it is likely that the damage done to the environment will be irreversible.
Many marine companies are looking to go carbon neutral by 2050, and this will be vital in the sector’s efforts to increase sustainability. While the IMO is working on its strategy for the global marine fleet to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, forward-thinking companies are already making moves to completely decarbonize their ships.
Partnerships and education programs are aiding this, teaching business leaders and decision makers about alternatives that can help their businesses while also reducing environmental impact.
Currently, pollution from ships has a big impact on the environment. The oil they use as fuel has high levels of pollutants that run off into the ocean.
Ocean acidification is happening in parallel with warming and deoxygenation. It’s occurring due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which then dissolves in the ocean, lowering its pH levels. At least a quarter of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere released by burning fossil fuels goes into the ocean, roughly 22 million tonnes per day.
Already ocean pH has decreased by about 30%, and if we continue emitting CO2 at the current rate, by 2100 ocean acidity will increase by around 150%, a rate that has not been experienced for at least 400,000 years. This would be a monumental shift for the chemistry of the ocean, and would damage all the life within it. The shells of some marine animals are already actually dissolving in the very water they live in.
However, the monitoring of ocean acidification levels is no longer being funded by the UK Government.
The amount of plastic in our oceans is at crisis level. Broken down into microplastics, they slowly work their way into the food chain, and have even ended up in our own bodies. Around 70% of the litter in the ocean is plastic, and this number is set to treble in the next ten years.
If something isn’t done, plastic could corrupt our entire eco system. Some claim it may already be too late, as there has been plastic found at the very deepest levels of the ocean.
320 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually, and only around 5% of that is recycled.
While wind and solar energy are limited by their lack of consistent power generation, wave energy can generate power 24/7.
There is plenty of energy potential in the ocean, the real challenge lies in converting it into usable power which can then be utilised. Around 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the ocean, so there is definitely potential to expand wave power into many of our cities and homes.
Renewable energy is becoming more efficient and affordable, and research into new ways to generate power will help us ensure that growing power needs around the world are met.