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      Ocean Biodiversity: What it is and why it is important

      Ocean Biodiversity: What it is and why it is important

       

      You may have heard the term ‘biodiversity’ before, but may not totally understand the true definition of what it is and why it’s important. Biodiversity is a shortened term of the words biological and diversity that incorporates and serves the connections and relationships between all living things. That includes, plants, animals, microorganisms, fungi, etc.

       What many may not know, is that the biodiversity of a place, area, or ecosystem can actually be measured. It entails creating inventories of all plants, animals, and other species within a given area. This process is known as creating a Biodiversity Index; which can then be analyzed to find out what level of biodiversity is present. While this process can be time consuming, it’s an incredibly useful tool in getting a better understanding of an area and what species have a potential risk of being harmed by climate change, development, and natural disasters, just to name a few.

       Oceans around the world have some of the highest biodiversity of all ecosystems on earth. From marine mammals, plant species, fish, bacterias and other living organisms, the oceans are absolutely blooming with life. Typically, the more species an area has, where all are working together in a united ecosystem, the higher the level of biodiversity. A high level of biodiversity is essential to the functioning and continuation of life all over the planet. However, that biodiversity is threatened, and must be protected now more than ever.

      We continue our lives every day without realizing how many incredible functions are occurring in the natural world around us. Biodiversity is arguably one of the most important environmental factors to protect as populations grow, development and sprawl continues, and climate change poses many threats we can not totally be prepared for. If we imagine biodiversity around the world collapsing entirely, it would be the end for human life, and all life as we know it.

      Biodiversity, especially associated with earth's oceans, is a system all on its own. However, the balance of biodiversity is rather delicate. Biodiversity can be reduced through habitat destruction, species extinction, temperature and climate disturbances, among other factors.

      Pollution in the form of industrial chemicals, animal waste, and global greenhouse gases are also able to impact biodiversity of an area. While the oceans are large, the damage done to biodiversity occurs closer to shore, and starts a domino effect of impact over time, further out into the seas. Biodiversity is a delicate balance, a dance so to speak, between all species. It does not take much to throw the balance off entirely.

      You may be wondering how biodiversity, and the potential lack of it, can affect human life. The oceans seem distant, and almost as if they have little to no connection to what occurs on land and in our daily lives. You may even be wondering if we can live without healthy oceans. However, we are much more connected to the oceans as land creatures than you may realize. And, no, life for humans without healthy, functioning oceans, is just impossible.

      Firstly, economies around the world depend on the oceans. From tourism to fishing industries, the oceans support large amounts of money that enter countries around the world annually. Most people eat harvested seafood, which is a regulated industry. Although it is not the most sustainable industry, without monitoring the biodiversity of a fishing area, it becomes very easy to overfish a certain species. Ultimately, this can lead to threatening various fish species, and places stress upon the ecosystem from which they are harvested.

       

      Tourism is directly linked to biodiverse oceans. Biodiversity allows for the vibrant fish, coral, and marine plant species that many travel to see and experience. Recreational activities like swimming, diving, snorkeling, etc. all rely on pristine environments to keep attracting visitors, and ultimately, funds into various economies.

      One of the most essential ways the ocean protects human life is through climate stabilization. Oceans are responsible for producing one out of every two breaths we take. The oxygen produced would not be possible without biodiverse and balanced ecosystems at work. In addition, the ocean helps to equilibrate global temperatures, which means climate change can be mitigated by supporting healthy oceans.

      In summary, biodiversity is a combination of the variety of animal species, plants, bacterias, and more, working together in harmony to support each other, and ultimately, life as we know it. Oceans are crucial needs for healthy human life, and for other life that we share the planet with. Biodiversity is still being studied, and scientists are discovering new connections and functions of biodiversity every year. It is essential that oceans be protected, and its biodiverse ecosystems be preserved for economic, health, and intrinsically valued reasons.

      How Does Ocean Plastic Pollution Affect Sea Turtles?

      How Does Ocean Plastic Pollution Affect Sea Turtles?

       

      As it turns out, plastic is not so fantastic, especially for marine wildlife. Plastic pollution, which was once an issue that posed little threat, has evolved into a massive environmental undertaking. It is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic material circulating in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

      Some species of marine life are struggling more than others to live in ecosystems filled with plastic; sea turtles being one of the more vulnerable and sensitive species. Sea turtles are very mobile creatures, with vast migration patterns, specific mating behavior, and delicate lifestyles, making them more susceptible to environmental stressors.

      Nearly all sea turtle species are considered endangered. This means that their populations are continuing to decline. Factors like climate change, being subjected to fishing bycatch, hunting and poaching, are all responsible for their decline. Plastic pollution, however, is their latest and possibly greatest threat.

       

      Sea turtles are affected by plastic pollution in 3 main ways.

      1. Ingestion

      Plastic debris such as plastic bags appear very familiar to sea turtles. Ocean current pushes plastic bags, causing them to sway and appear much like jellyfish, which are a staple in the diet of sea turtles.

      Things such as plastic fishing line or netting are easily mistaken for seaweed, another main food item for sea turtles. Sea turtles are unable to digest plastic materials, and often will fill their stomachs up with plastics, causing them to feel full, and eventually they will perish due to starvation. Research conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) found that a turtle had a 22% chance of dying if it ate just one piece of plastic.

      1. Entanglement

      If sea turtles do not consume plastic debris, they are still at risk of becoming entangled in old fishing equipment and netting. Entanglement often leads to death, as sea turtles need to reach the ocean surface occasionally to breath. If they become entangled and submerged under water, they will die of suffocation.

      When this is not the case, sea turtles, even those who manage to free themselves from entanglement, are likely to suffer some sort of injury. The injuries place them in a more vulnerable position, often attracting predators. Injuries also affect their ability to reproduce, and could cause them to die due to infections or non-survivable injuries.

      1. Habitat Destruction

      Sea turtles utilize various habitats for resting, hunting for food, and reproducing. Plastic pollution, however, creates an environment that may block out sunlight, which inhibits plant growth in habitats where sea turtles may usually collect food. This, along with other environmental stressors, may cause sea turtles to venture further away from their usual territories, making them a target for predators.

      Plastic pollution also creates a dangerous environment for them to thrive, as many plastics have hard edges, and litter the ocean floor, where they enjoy spending time.

       

       

      In conclusion, sea turtles are valuable marine species who are sensitive to environmental changes. The three main ways they are affected by marine plastic pollution is through ingestion, entanglement, and habitat destruction. Sea turtles are incredible creatures, with vast migration patterns, and are one of the most adored marine species. They have many threats, including poaching, climate change, and now, plastic pollution. To protect sea turtles, supporting organizations dedicated to ocean conservation is a great way to start!