The Sea, The Sea was the unforgettable title of a novel by Iris Murdoch which she might have taken from of an old ballad by one Barry Cornwall (1787–1874) that went “The sea, the sea, the open sea,/ The blue, the fresh, the ever free;/ Without a mark, without a bound,/ It runneth the earth’s wide region round.”
It still does that, but it’s not the same sea. After millions of years growing and nurturing our planet, we’ve killed off 50% in the last half century. Last week, a sperm whale was found dead on an Indonesian beach with 13 pounds of trash in its stomach.
This included 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, two flip-flops, a nylon sack and more than 1,000 other plastic pieces.
It may have been hungry, and eaten anything it found. After all, we’re harvesting unprecedented amounts of squid from the ocean. And Indonesia manufactures 3.2 million tons of plastic annually, much of which ends us in the sea.
Nearly 90 percent of the oceans’ fish stocks is fished-out or overfished: according to a global UN Food and Agriculture survey. The high seas, beyond national boundaries, are by far the largest, least protected, ecosystems on Earth. Even in the Antarctic, where the continent is protected, the surrounding ocean is being stripped of its krill, the staff of life for fish, and even for whales.
Oceans comprise 97% of Earth’s water. Now, only the dark, deep seas, the twilight zone – from 2 miles (3km) to nearly 7 miles (10.9km) deep – still teem with life, much of it unknown and unnamed. But these depths aren’t safe from human predation. The Sargasso Sea’s three million square miles of floating forest, nursey grounds for hundreds of marine species, is being gathered up to feed cows.
Without the blue sea, there wouldn’t be the green land. If Earth didn’t have water, it would be as lifeless as Mars. Ocean are our life support systems. They bury carbon; they water the land with rain. Most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is generated by the sea. The ocean drives climate and weather, stabilizes temperature, shapes Earth’s chemistry. It feeds our ever-growing populations. But it must be managed. It must be farmed. It is our most valuable global asset. But nobody is taking control, no government, no overview.
It is heartening to learn, that in special, exclusive corners of the ocean, diverse and unchanged life can still be found. Elsewhere, this paradise is lost, and will survive nowhere unless we save it. Ireland, our country, ranks second worst in the EU for tackling climate change, which effects oceans too.
While the seas around much of the world were like even 50 years ago is now a memory, in the Galapagos Islands 97 percent of the land is protected and, inshore, in a rocky cove, my son and his wife found an abundant and diverse sea garden. Beyond it, the sea is ravaged by fishing.
In such a cove, we’d never seen so much marine life, even in the Caribbean. As soon as you look underwater there are fish of all sorts, coral, anemones, starfish, crabs. We soon came across three turtles grazing, one of them huge, and all completely tame – we could have touched them. Then, the marine iguanas, grazing on the same weed beds, totally chilled. An underwater cameraman was practically standing astride one of them as it browsed. This, all within metres of the shoreline
When I read more of their emails, I wish I had learned to surf, but it wasn’t, in Ireland, a sport of my generation. He tells me that in the Galapagos, he encountered waves that were “. . . definitely the longest and cleanest breaks I’ve ever seen.”
Adding to this was the excitement of sea lions close by, joining the action. large, dark shadows beside him in a wave — I can well believe that large, dark shadows beside one in a wave would be disconcerting. Also, around him were turtles, regularly surfacing for air. Then, as he tried to get out of the surf (not an easy task in itself) colonies of marine iguanas lying on the rocks, and the same colour, gave him a fright. What was rock, and what was iguana? And meanwhile, the big waves were breaking around him.
On the beach, he and his wife had a picnic and got mobbed by a band of finches. They sat on their towels, on her hat, on his rucksack; they even sat on their hands, snatching their food! More came and there were two dozen surrounding them, despite being shooed away.