Ocean news 2017 in Review – Part 1: The Changing Earth

During 2017, we experienced some highs and lows when it came to ocean-related news. New discoveries mixed with natural disasters of the greatest proportions riddled our timelines throughout the past year, so I figured it would be an interesting topic for a 2-part blog series. With this entry: The Changing Earth, I’m going to discuss the various threats to the oceans and Earth as we know it, with the next installment focusing on the positives that came out of 2017, including exciting new discoveries! So, without further ado, let’s discuss some of the interesting ocean-related events of the past year, starting with the numerous devastating tropical storms….

 

2017: The year of “once in a lifetime” storms! While hurricanes and strong tropical storms are not uncommon events, last year we witnessed some of the strongest storms in history. The Caribbean was hit by not one, but two huge hurricanes back to back in late August. Hurricane Harvey initiated the onslaught on the region, dumping up to 150cm of rain over a 2 day period. This lead to insane flooding causing large scale personal and property loss that is estimated to reach $100 Billion US dollars. Hurricane Maria followed around a month later, which caused the near annihilation of Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants just got their power back within the last month! Unfortunately, these weren’t the only storms of note. A post-tropical cyclone made its way north and hit both Ireland and Great Britain. Stronger-than-usual typhoons were experienced in south-east Asia, and a seldom heard of Medicane occurred in Greece. Have you ever heard of a Medicane? These storms are the Mediterranean equivalent to a tropical storm, much like a cyclone or typhoon. However, since the Mediterranean isn’t big or warm enough to sustain the storm’s energy, it can’t be classified as a tropical storm, despite sharing tropical storm characteristics. Hence the creation of the title “Medicane”.

While this past year was a bad one for storms, it is a sign of where we are going with future years. Thanks to global warming, we can come to expect these types of storms to become part of the norm.

 

Before:After pictures of the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
Before: After pictures of the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

 

In addition to the storms, 2017 will also be known as the successive year where we documented the further demise of our coral reefs. A mass bleaching event occurred throughout the world in 2016 due to the El Niño weather pattern causing water temperatures on the coral reefs to increase. This initially started back in 2014, however due to the sustained higher-than-usual water temperatures, 2016 was the year we saw the most bleaching and coral die-off. While this isn’t an immediate death sentence for the corals, if the higher-than-usual temperatures are sustained, the corals will become stressed, expel their symbiotic algae with whom they coexist and use as a food collection source, and slowly starve.   All is not lost though! Marine protected areas (MPA’s), coral nurseries, pollution reduction, as well as the discovery of “super corals” have all played a valuable role on helping reefs bounce back after this very trying time period.  These super corals are species that are able to withstand a greater temperature variation than other species of corals, which means that these El Niño events aren’t impacting them nearly as much as the regular corals. Pollution, while down overall, is still a major threat to the health of the oceans. It includes anything from oil spills, fertilizer runoff, and the subject of the year: Plastics!

 

Coral Bleaching: Before and After
Coral Bleaching: Before and After

 

Plastics, plastics, plastics! It seems like this is a never-ending topic of discussion among environmentalists the past few years and 2017 is no different. The issue has become what most would describe as an epidemic, to the point where scientists have estimated that there is a literal tonne of plastic rubbish located in the oceans from each person on Earth. What’s worse is that the majority of this plastic enters the water through only 10 rivers across the globe. On a slightly brighter note though, scientists discovered that some species of corals actually eat plastics! It appears that the corals enjoy the taste of the plastics, however, scientists have yet to figure out what chemical or component of the plastic makes it so desirable to the coral. Humans are learning something new every day and will hopefully use this newfound knowledge in a positive way! Here at Master Divers, we try to lead the way on Koh Tao, and take every step possible to reduce our plastic consumption. You can read more about Master Divers commitment to the environment on our previous blog post.

Eco Straws

 

Given all that has happened in the past year, it is easy to be sad, but don’t be! Channel that passion into energy to help solve the problem! With the biggest issues all being due to global warming, we can all start with trying to lower our carbon footprints.  This includes carpooling, walking, cycling, or using public transit to get around instead of driving everywhere. Another step you can take is to limit your meat intake. I’m not going to preach to you and say you need to cut out meat 100%, but if you can limit the amount you eat in a given week, it would do the world of good. Forests are cut down in order to make pastures for cattle and create food for other animals raised for human consumption. Finally, I implore you to try and cut down on the amounts of single-use plastic you use. Excellent alternatives to popular single-use plastic items exist, such as metal or bamboo straws and canvas shopping bags. The Earth needs our help if it is to be saved, and only a change in what has become our “norm” will do. Tune in to my next blog post to see what other changes 2017 brought to the world for ocean lovers!

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