VIEWPOINT: Rethinking Ocean Conservation

The ocean is a magnificent and fundamental part of our planet. This gigantic body of water covers roughly 75 percent of the Earth’s surface while regulating our climate and providing the oxygen necessary for us to breathe. More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for food, and countless countries rely on it as a source of revenue through ecotourism and coastal attractions.

While the ocean is undoubtedly necessary for human survival and advancement, it has faced a growing number of threats in the past decades. Climate change and ocean acidification threaten marine populations, including the phytoplankton that produce the oxygen we breathe. Rising sea levels endanger coastlines and encroach on dry land; as a result, countries such as the Maldives may soon vanish underwater. Overfishing is depleting fish stocks around the world while destroying coral reefs at alarming rates.

Given these threats, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of the ocean. Even Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at Georgetown during the “Our Ocean Conference” on Friday, said we may be past a stage of prevention and must instead resort to mitigation efforts to address these threats.

However, the same conference at which Kerry spoke helps provide a beacon of hope for our future. The “Our Ocean Conference” addresses pertinent issues while highlighting individuals’ dedication to the cause. Across Washington, D.C., at the same time, a joint effort between the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance — an organization founded and run by Georgetown — and the U.S. Department of State helped bring the very first “Our Ocean, One Future: Leadership Summit,” a youth conference corresponding with the “Our Ocean Conference.” Over 150 students from around the world gathered for this forum in September, united by environmental optimism and passion for change.

These young people exchanged ideas about how to combat the multitude of ocean issues we face today, including overfishing and reef bleaching. Such a conference encourages the exchange of ideas among a generation of students whose future will directly be affected by the future of our seas and climate.

A few of those ideas include those of Ugoeze Achilike, a senior at American University and conference participant. She is seeking to implement community-centered education to provide children the opportunity to interact more with the environment while promoting sustainable lifestyles at a young age. Hannah MacDonald, a junior at Michigan State, is a member of the EarthEcho International Youth Leadership, a youth organization founded by ocean conservationist Philippe Cousteau.
EarthEcho’s 15 student members have dedicated this year’s efforts to launching an ocean plastic pollution project in order to gather debris and show how small actions can lead to significant change.

Beyond the conference, there are many young people who continue to work toward combating ocean issues. Boyan Slat, a 22-year-old Dutch entrepreneur, spoke at Georgetown last spring at the second “Sustainable Oceans Alliance Summit” about his idea to rid the ocean of plastic pollution. He is leading what is known as the world’s largest cleanup through inventions designed to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: a floating collection of trash and plastic in the ocean roughly the size of Texas.

Ugoeze, McDonald and Slat are just a few of the young individuals working to preserve the ocean and consequently, the planet. We cannot change the past, and Kerry was correct when he stated that we can no longer prevent certain planetary changes.

Even so, one can look to millennials and younger individuals who are forming innovative methods to combat ocean issues and find hope for a promising future for the ocean and the planet. Sylvia Earle, the first female chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, may have said it best: “Our past, our present and whatever remains of our future absolutely depend on what we do now.”

Josh Heckman is a junior in the College. He is the chief networking officer for the Sustainable Oceans Alliance.

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