Earthday 2010 - Blue not Green

SUBHEAD: As creatures that evolved on land our perspective is distorted. Perhaps the planet's name should be "Water" rather than "Earth". Image above: A photo-illustration of the Earth floating in the ocean from the article. By Gazelle Emami on 22 April 2010 in the Huffington Post - ( Earth is often seen as synonymous with land, but our planet is overwhelming dominated by water. Which is why this Earth Day, we're going blue. Taking care of our oceans and other sources of water is critical to sustaining our planet, but the attention they get often doesn't reflect that. While 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, 95 percent of the oceans have not even been explored. We're taking a look at nine reasons why water and the life within it is vital to life on Earth, and how celebrating the earth means celebrating our most precious resource -- water. According to NASA, at least half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of marine plants. The amount of carbon in the ocean is about 50 times greater than the amount in the atmosphere-- carbon is trapped for long periods of time the deep sea and ocean sediment. 48 percent of the carbon emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels gets trapped in the ocean, greatly reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that could be in our atmosphere. However, the ocean's vital role as a carbon sink could be threatened by the impacts of climate change on ocean circulation, biogeochemical cycling and the dynamics of ecosystems. For such a microscopic organism, plankton take on a huge role in the ocean's carbon cycle, and in turn, the world's. According to NASA, the trillions of phytoplankton work collectively to convert huge quantities of carbon dioxide into living matter. In the process, they produce half of the world's oxygen and help regulate the planet's overall climate. Increased carbon in the atmosphere leads to a more acidic ocean, disturbing the chemistry of the ocean, harming marine life and in turn human activities that rely on the ocean. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a more acidic ocean could wipe out species and disrupt the food web. Acidification depletes the seawater of compounds necessary to building shells and skeletons, effecting the ability of corals, crabs, seastars, sea urchins, plankton, and other marine creatures to build protective armor. Over the last 250 years, oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of CO2, raising the acidity of the ocean by 30 percent. Before the oil and coal industries, the ocean's acidity had remained relatively stable for the previous 20 million years. But according to researchers, if carbon emissions continue at this rate, ocean acidity will more than double by 2100. You would think that with all the water out there, we wouldn't be in the middle of a water crisis. However, less than one percent of the water on Earth is fresh, accessible water available for human consumption. But that one percent is used far more carelessly than it should if we want to sustain our water supply. While there is technically enough water for everyone on Earth, its distribution is uneven, and much of it is polluted. The average hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce, which is just one of many examples of our overconsumption of water. Access to clean water is also a major issue in many parts of the world-- the United Nations estimates that between 2.5 and 2.6 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, providing a habitat for a large number of organisms. They provide a home for nearly half the fish the world eats. According to the EPA, coral reefs are important fishery and nursery areas and also provide protection from erosion to coastlines. However, 19 percent of coral reefs are dead, and 15 percent more could be gone in 20 years. There are numerous reasons for this decline that are caused by humans, including global warming, pollution, coastal development, the damage from bottom-dragging fishing boats, and the international trade in goods, such as jewelry, made of coral. According to Old Dominion University professor Kent Carpenter, director of a worldwide census of marine species, if global warming continues at its current rate, all corals could be extinct in as soon as 100 years, devastating many nations' economies. More than twelve percent of land is protected, but shockingly only less than one percent of the vast ocean expanse is protected under Marine Protected Areas, which are defined as "areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters." This makes it impossible to gauge the damage done to areas that are left unprotected. It can be more difficult to chronicle some of our endangered marine species, but that doesn't make the problem any less real. Marine species across the board are at risk due to myriad reasons, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices. Sea turtles, for example, come to shore to lay their eggs, only to find they have no breeding ground because of coastal development. The bluefin tuna makes up a large part of some nations' economies, yet they are being fished to extinction as if there were an unlimited supply. Furthermore, data on populations of small invertebrates and marine fish, that are crucial to their ecosystems, can be difficult to collect. Without extensive ocean protection under Marine Protected Areas, protection for marine species remains weak. According to the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration, more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored. Yet billions of dollars in government money has been invested in space exploration through the years. According to geophysicist and ocean explorer Robert Ballard, NASA's annual budget for one year would fund NOAA's budget to explore the oceans for 1,600 years. Ballard explains that most of our ocean discoveries have been made by accident, and all ocean discoveries only account for a one-tenth of one percent glimpse of our oceans. The Mid-Ocean Ridge, which is the Earth's largest mountain range and covers about a quarter of the planet, was not even entered until 1973, after we went to the moon. .

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