Ocean covers 70% of our planet’s surface. To call this planet Earth, not planet Ocean is surely just the blinkered viewpoint of a land-dwelling mammal, says David North.

Though nearly all of us, at some point, will have been taught that this world ocean covers more than two thirds of the planet, it’s sad, but true, that far fewer of us are aware of just how vital this world ocean is to all our lives. We, along with all other land animals, are totally dependent on a healthy ocean. Ocean life produces more than half of our oxygen, and food for over a billion people. The global ocean regulates our climate and a healthy ocean is the best defence against climate change.

Jellyfish, by Rob Spray

This world ocean and its life have been evolving for several billion years. Simple life may have appeared in the ocean more than 3 billion years ago and the first true animals to appear may not have been unlike modern comb jellyfish.

It’s just in the past hundred years that human activities such as industrial fishing, dredging for minerals, oil and plastic pollution, and the snaring and drowning of seabirds and marine mammals in fishing nets have begun to have global impacts.

Oceans absorb more than 90% of the heat generated by greenhouse gases. To give some idea of the scale of our impact: the amount of heat we have added to the world ocean in the past 25 years is equal to the heat of 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom bomb explosions. That’s an average of four bombs a second for 25 years. 2019 was the hottest year on record for ocean temperature with our additional heating of the oceans having increased to an equivalent of six Hiroshima bombs each second during that year.

Nearly all the world’s seabirds now carry plastics within their bodies, no beach in the world is free from micro-plastic pollution and the most biodiverse habitat in the ocean, coral reefs, is dying from coral bleaching caused by the warming and acidifying impact of our burning of fossil fuels.

So what can we do? And what part can Norfolk play in changing the way we view and act towards ‘Mother Ocean’? The Wildlife Trusts nationally, and Norfolk Wildlife Trust locally, campaigned hard, and successfully, for the designation of Marine Conservation Zones. We can, and should be, proud of our Cromer Shoal Chalk Reef MCZ – the largest marine chalk reef in Europe. But, as with protected sites on land, these small marine conservation sites are neither big enough, nor well protected enough, to reverse the damage that has been done to our marine life. Beach cleans at Cley and Salthouse Marshes are also a good way of helping the marine environment.

In the UK we now need Highly Protected Marine Areas where all damaging operations are prohibited and we need these to be large enough to reverse past declines. That is the focus of the latest Wildlife Trust marine campaign.

Globally we need nations to come together, recognise that a healthy world ocean is vital and benefits all, and agree a Global Ocean Treaty to protect waters outside national jurisdictions.

Sunrise at Sea Palling, by Elizabeth Dack

The world ocean, like the world’s atmosphere, is a global common and up to now the political will to make the international agreements necessary to reverse the damage that has already been done has been lacking. But if we are to create sustainable solutions to both the climate and biodiversity emergencies then nations and organisations working together are vital and those who care about the health of wildlife, whether on land or at sea, need to be the strongest advocates for achieving this. The time for action is now.
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