Formation - 1 September 2017

en - Oceans in deep trouble

There is the sea, vast and wide

with its moving swarms past counting

living things great and small.

The ships are moving there

and the monsters you made to play with... 

May the glory of the lord last forever

May the Lord rejoice in His works. Ps 103

Life began in the oceans 3.8 billion years ago. Without the oceans our planet would be as inhospitable as Mars. It is thanks to the oceans that we exist. If the ocean dies then so do we. The oceans are massive pulsing vibrant bodies of water that serve humanity in countless ways, they provide food, enable commerce: so many creatures depend on them: they are home to 80% of all species on earth: they are vast and beautiful, they are not invincible. If in fact they are in deep trouble then so are we, for everything is interconnected.

Seabirds and creatures of the sea are suffering. Young seabird chicks are fed plastic waste, turtles are trapped in discarded fishing tackle, shellfish cannot create their shells, whales and dolphins strand themselves. The albatross dies with a gut full of plastic. Algae blooms form to create dead zones, great areas of deoxygenated water, food chains are disrupted. What is happening?

There are many inter-related factors most of which are related to human activity. There is the seismic blasting of the ocean floor in search of oil and gas which devastates the ocean bed and kills thousands of dolphins and other marine life. There is the over fishing, again giant trawlers plundering vast areas of the sea bed indiscriminately leading to species extinction and loss of fish stocks. Surprisingly perhaps, the noise caused by human activity is now an inescapable threat to marine life. The oceans are no longer a `silent world’ Underwater creatures rely on sound to navigate and socialise, to find food and mates, it is their primary sense. Noise travels further and faster in water so their system of communication is disrupted, for instance calling of whales has to be at higher and higher frequency, so they are increasingly stressed. It is found that even plankton and krill, small sea organisms are affected.

Then there is global warming. 30% of CO2 emissions produced by humans are absorbed by the oceans. This begins to acidify the waters so small sea animals find difficulty in reproducing. Coral reefs are cooked alive, this is coral bleaching. Microscopic marine organisms called phytoplankton, food for whales, shrimp snails and jelly fish, use sunlight to absorb sunlight and dissolve nutrients but when there are too many a harmful algae blooms with low oxygen levels create dead zones, eutrophication. And every second breath we take comes from the tiny marine plants in the ocean creating oxygen.

Then there is pollution. There are the pollutants from industrial sources, oils, petrochemicals nitrates from fertilizer run off, asbestos, phosphates, lead, dangerous mercury from mining processes, nuclear waste, lead and animal waste, to name the main ones. This may well be affecting our hormones, reproductive systems, and damaging nervous systems and kidneys as well as destroying marine life.

There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way. It has been said that plastic pollution is more damaging than climate change. It is really serious. There is a plastic soup in the Pacific of 15 million square kilometres, there is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a churning circular gyre the size of California where plastic outweighs plankton by 6:1. Plastic pollution goes as far as Antarctica. Most of the trash going into the oceans is plastic which takes about 400 years to degrade so plastic is accumulating, in the meantime it will break up into smaller and smaller harmful pieces to be ingested more and more by every organism. It is estimated 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the oceans every year as well as microbeads and microfibres. We must stop doing this, eliminate microbeads, stop single use plastic, stop using plastic bottles and bags, stop disposing of our plastic waste in the oceans.

We are beginning to wake up. A young Dutch man, Boyan Slat has developed a simple way of collecting plastic in the gyres using the ocean currents and the difference between the surface water rate of movement and the deeper water, as a moving anchor. By producing many smaller systems he reckons to be able to clean up 50% of the patch in 5 years. The system will be launched very soon. As we begin to understand what noise is doing underwater there have been Maritime noise muffling guidelines and an Ocean Noise strategy Roadmap. And in June 2017 there was the first ever Ocean Conference.

There is a new caring attitude towards the oceans. The Ocean Conference adopted a 14 point call for action with over 1,300 voluntary commitments alongside. Participants shared state of the art knowledge showcasing many innovative solutions. The Call to Action urges us to act decisively and urgently to make a meaningful difference to our beautiful but ravaged planet, its oceans and ultimately its peoples.


The great sea has set me in motion,

Set me adrift,

and I move as a weed in the river

the arch of the sky

and the mightiness of storms

encompasses me,

and I am left

trembling with joy.

Inuit prayer from the Book of Uncommon prayer

Jessica Gatty, ra