I have lived near the Atlantic Ocean for most of my life. I didn’t grow up sailing or surfing or even swimming in salt water (much too cold for a wimp like me!), but I have often taken for granted that I can walk from my house to the rocky shore and soak in the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea. I can watch my dogs race around stacks of beached lobster traps and find the ones covered in the crunchiest, saltiest seaweed. I can enjoy the breezes the ocean bestows upon us coastal dwellers in the summer, and the humid, salty air that keeps winter snowfall along the coast to a minimum.
The ocean, for me, has always been a majestic backdrop to a life that doesn’t necessarily require proximity to the shore.
For so many others around the world—more than 40 percent of the global population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast—it is their workplace, their grocery store, and their interstate.
And despite how little I may think I “use” the ocean, all of us, regardless of how distant the beach may be, rely on it for clean air to breathe. Marine phytoplankton produce half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, and ocean waters absorb more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit. Climate change would have started barking back at us a lot sooner if oceans hadn’t been eating up our air pollution these past couple hundred years.
According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Stresses caused by human activity on the oceans’ life support systems are widely acknowledged to have reached unsustainable levels. … Our oceans and seas are under risk of irreversible damage to habitats, ecological functions, and biodiversity because of overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, pollution, unsustainable coastal area development, and the unwanted impacts from the extraction of non-living ocean resources.”
With oceans, it doesn’t matter whether you live in coastal Maine or landlocked Malawi. Just as the earth’s atmosphere knows no borders, neither do the oceans that make up 70 percent of our planet’s surface area. It’s up to all of us to make our oceans healthy for marine life and for future generations of people that will depend upon its plethora of services, just as we do today.
The State Department hosted the first “Our Ocean” Conference in June (we’ve printed Secretary John Kerry and actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s remarks beginning on page 20 of this issue). President Obama, addressing via video the representatives of the nearly 90 countries in attendance, was inspiring in his remarks. “We’ve already shown that when we work together, we can protect our oceans for future generations. So let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s make sure that years from now we can look our children in the eye and tell them that, yes, we did our part, we took action, and we led the way toward a safer, more stable world.”
Nothing will get us closer to a safer, more stable world than a stable human population. We must redouble our efforts to expand access to voluntary family planning as well as to protect our oceans, especially in the face of the new Congress, which will attempt to block progress every step of the way.
Without population stabilization, our oceans don’t stand a chance. And without healthy oceans, neither does the future of humanity.