Protect the Ocean
The cause of the causes: the number
Overpopulation and concentration! Since 1910, the population has more than tripled to reach today more than 7 billion people. Added to this demographic explosion is a phenomenon of concentration on the coastal strips.
In the United States, 53% of the inhabitants live on 10% of the territory, less than 80 km from the coast. In France, 10% of the population lives on a coastal fringe representing less than one thousandth of the territory. Globally, half of the population lives less than 50 km from the coast.
Many scientists agree that this is one of the fundamental causes of our ailments.
Only one water on the planet: the great ocean
It is an obvious fact too often ignored: there is only one water on the planet, fresh water representing less than 3% of the total. From the snow that melts and mixes with the streams, the rivers and then the rivers, everything ends up in the sea, that is to say in the ocean. Evaporation perpetuates this cycle with rainfall. So whether we live inland or on the coast, we all have an impact on the marine environment.
The causes of degradation
The main causes of nature degradation are:
- the mechanical destruction of habitats due to construction (buildings, dams, marinas, ports, etc.);
- excessive sampling (trawling, fishing on foot by excess holidaymakers, etc.);
- the introduction of alien species (eg.Caulerpa taxifoliain Mediterranean) ;
- discharges of all kinds, in the atmosphere, in landfills and in water: plastics, chemicals, etc.
The vision of Jean-Michel Cousteau
1. What changes have you seen emerging over the past six decades?
Apart from climate change, I see three problems, all caused by our own behavior:
- the fact that we regard the ocean as a garbage can;
- destruction of coastal habitats;
The good news is that there are solutions. They are brought about by science, common sense, a special attention to animals that are sentinels, a deep commitment to what we love, like the incomparable beauty of the sea, and our children because they represent the future.
2. How are animals sentinels?
Animals, and in particular marine animals, are sentinels because what happens to them today will happen to us tomorrow. For example, analyzes carried out on cetaceans (which, like us, are at the end of the food chain) show a concentration of substances of all kinds, released into the sea by men, with serious consequences at stake: reduced resistance to diseases , transmission of toxic products to newborns through breast milk, premature deaths, etc.
Protecting the oceans is protecting ourselves.
3. During your expeditions, were you able to measure for yourself the impact of discards at sea?
I will take the example of the islands in the northwest of Hawaii, the most isolated in the world, which for a long time remained untouched by any human influence. An integral part of the ocean system, they are influenced by the North Pacific Gyre, a huge circular current that travels the planet in a clockwise direction. From west to east, it crosses the North Pacific, descends along the coasts of North America then Central America and then sets out again, from east to west, across the Pacific to reach the coasts of Japan.
Historically, this current carried driftwood which occasionally transported plants and animals populating the land in its path. This slow process of colonization took place over hundreds of years. Recently I walked the beaches of Laysan Island and could see what the North Pacific gyre brings today: syringes, computer screens, toothbrushes, toys, cigarette filters, plastics of all kinds… It's the Great Trash of the Pacific, affecting all marine species in its path.
This waste accumulates on an area representing twice that of France!
4. What are the solutions?
Philosophically, the thing is simple to state:
- do not overconsume and only buy what you really need;
- reject nothing in nature.
It is a personal and individual solution that requires no industrial change and no political decision. Of course, it is necessary to have biodegradable packaging and recyclable products, but what matters above all is not to reject anything in nature, no more on land and in the air than in rivers, rivers and oceans. where it all ends.
We must abandon the "monkey reflex" which, after eating a banana, throws the skin on the ground! This is still what we do today, including in the most developed countries: plastics, manufactured products, pollutants and other substances are still too often simply rejected in nature, piled up in landfills.
5. Why do we have this reflex?
It is an ancestral reflex, anchored in us. It is amplified by the belief that dilution is the solution. For a long time, we believed that the products released into the air or into the water were diluted and disappeared. However, this is not true, especially for chemicals and heavy metals that are accumulating in the oceans every day.
Analysis of the bodies of whales stranded in the Eastern Pacific has shown contamination with PBDE (Polybrominated diphenyl ether), a chemical used to flame retard plastic products and textiles found in children's toys, sofas, etc. These products are first present in the air, then they penetrate the water and enter the food chain, accumulating in the fats of the animals at the end of the chain and constituting a threat to their health. This is the case today for many species of marine mammals: bottlenose dolphins living along the coasts of the United States, baleen whales (although they feed in deep waters), seals and porpoises in the North Sea, etc. This foreshadows what our children may experience in the future.
To prevent this, a radical change in industrial logic is needed by requiring that the products produced be certified “risk-free” BEFORE being put on the market. Do not wait for the problem to arise to try to remedy it. It is irresponsible for companies to realize, thirty years after it has been marketed, that a product is dangerous. Governments need to realize this and change regulations accordingly. Citizens, through their vote and the choice of preferentially purchased products, must also have an influence. Prevention is better than cure !
6. In a way, you advocate a global awareness of our belonging to the planet...
Yes. For hundreds of years we have seen nature as an assemblage of different, unrelated species, with science identifying and classifying the various “loose parts” of the system. The disappearance of some of these "parts" makes us realize today that nature is a whole and that for the planet to be habitable we need each species. Nature provides us with breathable air, fresh water, food, raw materials and a pleasant environment. We must therefore protect its biodiversity to protect ourselves.
For example, with my children Fabien and Céline as well as the members of my team, we dived in the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the company of giant groupers (Epinephelus itajara) also called loaches. They can reach 2.50 m and weigh more than 300 kg. The species is now threatened with extinction because fishermen had not understood that when they were easy to catch, it was because they came together to reproduce and that they had to be left in peace. To this factor was added an additional cause that we took time to identify: during the laying, the eggs are transported over thousands of kilometers to reach areas favorable to fry such as the mangroves. The young groupers then stay there for their first seven years before reaching the deep waters and reaching the gigantic size that we know them to be.
By ignoring this phenomenon, man destroys the mangroves without any other precautions, thinking that they are only an obstacle to industrial and tourist development. By forgetting their fundamental role as nurseries, we are further accelerating the disappearance of these large groupers.
7. Again, what solution?
We need to recreate these habitats that we have destroyed and realize how important they are to the health of the oceans and the human economy. We cannot afford to take the risk of mortgaging underwater life by constantly concrete the coasts of the coastline all over the planet.
We also need global awareness of the problem of overfishing, which is threatening dozens of species with extinction: groupers, tunas, swordfish, sharks, etc. The first consequence of which is economic difficulties for the fishermen themselves. The solution to combat this overfishing is the creation of marine protected areas. It's not a new idea.
I saw in Fiji many years ago that when a great chief died, part of the reef was sanctuary and closed to fishing. The reason was that a year later, the inhabitants of the village paid homage to their deceased chief by having a big party which required having a lot of fish. By doing so, they were sure to have enough fish. Many fishing peoples ensure their future food by protecting certain territories.
In the United States, the first marine protected area has nothing to do with the protection of marine species. At Cape Canaveral, much of the area around the rocket launch pad had been closed to all boating and fishing activities, to protect users from possible fallout. A few years later, we realized that this area had become extremely fishy.
Scientists then studied the phenomenon and highlighted the effectiveness of total protection in terms of repopulation. In just three years, some species are able to reverse the trend and begin to grow again.
8. Are you optimistic?
Yes I am. Our “Environmental Ambassadors” educational program is bearing fruit. Consumption habits are changing, behaviors are moving in the right direction.
Divers and diving instructors are privileged witnesses who, through their daily actions, have an important role to play.
We need to keep going down this path...
Text taken fromDiving for Pleasure 4, reproduction prohibited without the written consent of the author.