AQUA, Our Water Planet

Guest Editor Peter Neill discusses Earthzine’s second quarterly theme of 2016, Ocean Stewardship.

Surveying the horizon from the ocean’s edge, one might still conclude that the sea is a place apart – vast, dynamic, and capable of infinite self-healing. Indeed, that attitude about the ocean demonstrates that the level of public awareness of ocean issues has moved hardly at all over a decade of scientific research, policy definition, proposed regulation, NGO promotion, political advocacy, and global communications. It is true that the news seems almost constantly filled with reports of abuse – of oil spills and algae blooms, trashed beaches and floating islands of plastic in faraway places, and much, much more.

Shipping off the coast of Thessaloniki, Greece. Image Credit: John Maravelakis

Shipping off the coast of Thessaloniki, Greece. Image Credit: John Maravelakis

For those of us who follow the ocean’s progress through these perspectives, the news is more than dire; indeed, the situation is critical and further exacerbated by acidification and dying coral, fisheries depletion, failed enforcement of treaties and laws already in place, and the continuing onslaught of interests, both corporate and governmental, that continue to pressure and exploit ocean resources beyond limit, certainly with no concern for sustainability of those resources for the future.

The old paradigm – unlimited growth to enable consumption based on fossil fuels – has exhausted the land and now turns upon the sea, exacerbated by vested interest and fear of change. In THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN – Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society, I proposed a new paradigm – planned growth to enable sustainability based on the ocean defined as “movement of water” in all its circles and cycles of conveyance and distribution worldwide. I propose a new ethos in which to redefine value, organizational structure, and individual and collective behavior in the 21st century.

“Hydraulic society” places water in all its forms and with all its implications for human survival first and foremost in consideration of the question “what’s next?” Frankly, we have no choice for the fundamental reason that that ocean – that global, interconnected hydraulic system – is essential to our fundamental requirements for climate, fresh water, food, energy, health, security, community development, and cultural traditions. Simple to say; hard to hear; even more difficult to change; without that system in all its complicated parts, adequately and equitably managed, what we call civilization will be tragically, inevitably destroyed.

Schools of fish off the coast of Malaysia. Image Credit: Johnny Chen

Schools of fish off the coast of Malaysia. Image Credit: Johnny Chen

Earthzine’s second quarterly theme of 2016 – Ocean Stewardship – addresses some of the many issues we must confront in this urgent context: changed international policy and new recommendations; the role of inter-governmental cooperation and the United Nations; the challenges of ocean engineering; archaeology, submerged cultural resources, and sacred places; deep ocean mining and other natural resource extraction; the paradox of corporate interests and capital investment; methodology for fish harvest and enforcement; rules for trade, transportation, and safe operations at sea; the crisis in coral reef health and access; and the role of youth in advocating for the ocean and its incontrovertible implication for the future benefit of all mankind.

There is so much to do. I am often asked, “Given the length and breadth and magnitude of the problem, how can one person make it better?” Here are some suggestions: First, acknowledge the reality of the problem. Second, accept responsibility for some part of the solution by choosing any one aspect of any one specific issue and work at home, at the office, in your associations, and in the larger community around you toward its solution. Third, look beyond mitigation of or adaption to distressing circumstance toward invention of a new way forward. Fourth, embrace change. Fifth, move beyond hope toward new behaviors that honor what the ocean provides us, still and forevermore, by entering into a reciprocal agreement, indeed a moral commitment, to give back through protection, conservation, and sustainable engagement with the ocean, with the nurturing and enduring resources of Aqua, our water planet.

Peter Neill is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services dedicated to the health of the world ocean, connecting ocean to climate, food, energy, health, security, community, cultural traditions and more. The World Ocean Observatory advocates for the ocean through responsible science and communications tools to include World Ocean Radio, a syndicated podcast and audio feature; World Ocean Journal, an annual digital magazine devoted to ocean issues; World Ocean Video, an aggregated video channel; and extensive social media.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN – Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society is published by Leete’s Island Books and is available in trade, paper, and electronic editions through Amazon.com and your local independent bookseller.