The sustainability of our oceans


For The Stroud Courier

Our oceans, once thought to be self-cleaning and so productive that man could live off their bounty forever, are losing out to man’s pollution.

Many have expressed concern and declared man’s processes unsustainable, yet our political systems have appeared reluctant to act. The future of our ‘Blue Earth’ is in question.

Consider the North Atlantic and Pacific Gyres, areas established by ocean currents that form a circular pattern spanning entire regions of these oceans.

These gyres host an enormous deposit of extremely small, plastic particulate debris first observed in the North Atlantic in the early 1970s, and more recently between San Diego and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

This accumulation is in a relatively well-defined region determined by the ocean currents, allowing marine scientists an opportunity for extended research.

These collected data sets allow scientists to examine whether the amount of plastic debris has changed over time, especially since the production and disposal of plastic waste has significantly increased.

The plastic particles are generally small with a mass less than that of a paper clip. While difficult to see by eye, their impact may be staggering.

Basic questions remain about plastics in the ocean – just how far across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can the plastic be found? How does the plastic affect the ocean environment, including plant life and animals ranging from microscopic plankton to the biggest marine mammals?

Sylvia Earle, National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence and a former chief scientist of NOAA, is well aware of how devastating man has been to the oceans.

Her commitment spans four decades as a researcher, explorer, and teacher in the field of marine science. She is also the founder of Mission Blue, an organization dedicated to worldwide ocean sustainability.

Her research concerns marine ecosystems with special reference to exploration, conservation, and the development and use of new technologies.

Her special focus is on developing a global network of areas to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes, from maintaining biodiversity to providing stability and resiliency in response to climate change.

At ESU our interests reach into the same arena. Led by Dr. James Hunt, associate professor of biological sciences and coordinator of the marine science program, our students have addressed these topics and taken to the field to conduct research and explore the practical side of sustainable processes.

Dr. Hunt has presented on the importance of effective fishery management.

He has brought home the facts about the challenges, successes, and failures of sustainable fishing, and how marine resources have been impacted by inefficient regulations, overzealous industry practices, new technologies, and poor science; often resulting in the collapse of ocean-based fish stocks.

ESU’s Commission on Sustainability is proud to support our students and faculty in addressing sustainable issues, and the continuing sustainable speakers series organized by Dr. Eugene Galperin.

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