Be Your Own Birder

Happy World Ocean Day!

Today is a day of awareness for all things pelagic – it’s World Ocean Day. Our oceans are a precious resource, but how much do you really know about them?

Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross – Photo by Ed Dunens

Fun Ocean Facts

  • Roughly 72 percent of our planet’s surface is covered with oceans, which produce roughly 70 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere.
  • Approximately 97 percent of all water on the planet is in the ocean. The remaining three percent is in freshwater or groundwater sources.
  • The combined volume of our oceans is roughly 1.33 billion cubic kilometers, or 3.518×1020 gallons, or the equivalent to 533 trillion Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • The exact number of species living in the ocean is unknown, but may be as high as one million, though more than 90 percent are still undiscovered.
  • Roughly 40 percent of humanity’s population – just over 3 billion people – live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of an oceanic coastline.

Less Fun Ocean Facts

Despite how massive our oceans are, and how critical they are to all life on our planet, we treat these precious bodies of water with brutal disdain. More disturbing facts include…

  • Nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic trash is estimated to be dumped into the world’s oceans every year – and that number continues to rise.
  • The burning of fossil fuels is contributing to acidifying the oceans, which in turn destroy their complex ecosystems and kill organisms.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is believed to be at least 1.6 million square kilometers, or over 617,000 square miles – and it’s only one of the garbage patches in our oceans.
  • More than 2,300 marine species are considered threatened or endangered (and remember, we don’t even know more than 90 percent of oceanic species!).
  • Less than 4 percent of our oceans are protected environments in marine parks and other preserves, and the laws protecting even these areas are rarely enforced.
Beach Litter - Photo by Susan White/USFWS
Beach Litter – Photo by Susan White/USFWS

Oceans and Birds

Okay, so what does this have to do with birds? Birds are the air, not the sea, right? Wrong! Birds, too, rely on the oceans in many ways. Pelagic birds are the most obvious examples – albatrosses, shearwaters, frigatebirds, fulmars, tropicbirds, penguins, and puffins are just a few types of birds that rely heavily on the oceans for survival. Coastal birds, such as gulls, pelicans, skuas, terns, and many ducks also rely on the oceans. Even birds that seem to have nothing to do with the ocean, such as hummingbirds, warblers, jays, and hawks, depend on the influence of the oceans over climate, weather systems, and water supplies to survive, just as we do. As oceanic habitats are destroyed, we’re slowly destroying not only all the birds we enjoy, but ourselves as well.

Helping Our Oceans

So what can we do? The focus of World Ocean Day is to protect and preserve the ocean, which is easy enough for every one of us to work on in many different, simple ways.

  • Reduce all your plastic use! Skip the straws and plastic cutlery, opt for reusable cloth bags, choose products with less plastic packaging, and use reusable drinking bottles.
  • Recycle all plastic you do have to use as much as possible, ensuring it is collected properly for suitable recycling (check with your waste management guidelines).
  • Obey all guidelines when visiting beaches, such as keeping dogs leashed, boating carefully in no-wake zones, and staying away during critical sea turtle or shorebird nesting seasons.
  • Pick up plastic trash whenever possible, such as through participating in beach, park, or neighborhood cleanups, or just picking up trash whenever you’re out and about.
  • Keep all vehicles – cars, boats, motorcycles, RVs, jet skis, etc. – well tuned and maintained so they are not leaking oil, fuel, or other contaminants into waterways.
  • Choose non-plastic alternatives as much as possible, such as cotton swabs with paper handles instead of plastic, matches instead of disposable lighters, or tampons with cardboard applicators instead of plastic.
  • Minimize chemical use in order to reduce runoff that will eventually run right into the ocean, including the use of fertilizers, perfumes, industrial cleaners, etc.
  • Support legislation to protect ocean areas and marine wildlife, such as banning shark fin soup, controlling offshore oil rigs, or designating protected reefs.

These are just a few options you can easily choose, and every step you take will be one step closer to a cleaner, healthier ocean. Let’s celebrate World Ocean Day every day of the year!

World Ocean Day

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