The ocean is a source of incredible biodiversity, constituting over 90% of the habitable space on the planet and containing approximately 250 000 known species. Humans have explored less than 10% of the global oceans, leaving at least two-thirds of the world’s marine species unidentified. Unfortunately, humans have also degraded and exploited what little of the ocean we have access to – with overfishing, pollution, and climate change, we have not been living in harmony with the ocean.
The ocean plays a vital role in almost every aspect of human life, and every child’s eyes need to be opened to the ocean’s wonders. By understanding how the ocean is connected to everything, children will learn to care for and protect it. Knowing how our actions impact ocean health is a driving force for positive change. The ocean is precious, and every family should have an appreciation for its beauty and an understanding of its importance.
Here's why you should be teaching your children to love the ocean…
1. The ocean helps us breathe.
Phytoplankton are minuscule, plant-like organisms that live in the sea. These organisms are responsible for 50% of the oxygen production on Earth. Like terrestrial plants, phytoplankton use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy, producing oxygen as a byproduct. So, the next time you take a deep breath, you have the ocean to thank! The ocean, and the life within, are critical to the healthy functioning of the planet: if the ocean is polluted, it contains less phytoplankton and therefore, less oxygen is produced.
2. The ocean provides us with food.
Seafood is one of the most widely-consumed food sources in the world. Fish accounts for almost 16% of all animal protein consumed globally. Many people enjoy seaweed and a range of algae as part of their diets. Unfortunately, overfishing is a significant threat to ocean health. Commercial trawling vessels cause damage to the seafloor by ripping up coral reefs and destroying ecosystems. The bycatch in these fishing nets often includes sharks, dolphins, and endangered fish species.
Luckily, there are ways for you and your family to contribute to a healthier ocean. The WWF SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) List helps determine which seafood options are “green” (okay to buy), “orange” (think twice), or “red” (don’t buy). There’s even an app that you can keep on hand when doing your grocery shopping! You can find many “green” seafood options at Food Lovers Market, Pick ‘n Pay, Woolworths, and Spar, all of whom support the SASSI List.
3. The ocean helps regulate the climate.
Most of the sun’s rays are absorbed by the ocean. The ocean acts like a giant solar panel, absorbing enormous amounts of heat from the sun. That heat is most intense near the equator, with the water at the surface warming the most. Not only does the ocean absorb all this heat, but it also distributes it around the world. When water is heated, it exchanges with air in a process called evaporation. By absorbing most of the sun’s rays, ocean water is constantly evaporating, increasing the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain and storms. These are then carried towards land by trade winds. Almost all rain that falls on land starts in the ocean.
Ocean currents are another driver in global weather patterns. Acting like a conveyer belt, currents transport warm water and precipitation from the equator towards the poles and cold water back to the tropics. Thus, currents regulate global climate by “moving heat” from the equator around the globe. Without them, temperatures in certain areas would be much more extreme: super hot at the equator and freezing at the poles.
4. The ocean provides jobs.
Reports estimate that by 2030, ocean-based industries will employ more than 40 million people worldwide. In South Africa, the fishery and tourism sectors are a source of income for millions of people, contributing directly and indirectly to their food security. Marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, provide countless services for global coastal communities. They are an important food source, support livelihoods, and provide clean water, forest products, and protection against erosion. Of course, the economic health of ocean industries is intrinsically linked to the actual health of the ocean. If issues like climate change, pollution, and a lack of awareness continue, the possibilities of jobs in marine spaces dwindle. For ocean jobs to succeed, our ocean needs to thrive.
The next generation must be educated about the ocean to ensure that marine conservation efforts are successful – the future of our ocean depends on it.
Here’s how to help your child learn more about marine conservation:
- Encourage them to read books and watch videos about marine life – the more they know about the ocean, the better they’ll understand why it’s so important to protect it.
- Storytelling is a powerful tool for teaching – with stories, one can enthral children while conveying poignant lessons. Storytelling engages literacy and linguistic skills, as well as sparks creativity. Try to simplify complex concepts into an engaging narrative: this makes ocean literacy easier to digest
- Visit the Two Oceans Aquarium with your family whenever possible – the exhibits allow children (and adults) an up-close look at diverse marine life and are an excellent learning opportunity.
- Enrol in a class or two – the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation offers a variety of marine science, ocean literacy, and sustainability programmes for children (and adults). Our ocean educators use storytelling to emphasise the significance of the ocean.
We should not take our ocean for granted or underestimate its ability to provide us with food and other resources. As we move into an era of increased global warming and rising sea levels, we must educate our children about the ocean, so they can lead the drive to protect them. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders, and we need passionate, ocean-minded people to work towards a brighter future for our planet.