Oceans, caught between devil and the deep blue sea…Part I

Prologue

This is my first Blog post on Blue Life site. Blue Life is the blog I am creating to portray how human vanity is polluting the oceans, how our lust for everything is putting pressure on the marine ecosphere.  I plan to write articles on this blog, or even include ones which I had written in past and published somewhere else, about marine pollution, marine garbage, oils spills, pollution from maritime transport, plastics menace and so on… And these will be in simple and lucid language, mainly for those who are unaware.  I wish my articles may kindle a small flame, of awareness, in some corner of this planet some day and may grow in a wildfire.

“Oceans, caught between devil and the deep blue sea… (pun intended!)” is a series of articles I had written in “Exim India newsletter” in 2015 and 2016, which I am going to republish here one by one with some small changes and improvements.  Below is the first episode of the series.  Please give your frank opinion, comment, suggestion about the article.  Thanks.

Milind Joshi

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I am sure, accident episode of MSC Chitra, in August 2010 near Mumbai port, must still be fresh in the minds of people from sea cargo fraternity in India and especially around Mumbai.  I again remembered of it, when a few months ago I was reading a news in one leading news-paper, about sinking of another ship MV Coastal Pride, off Mumbai coast and the news mentioned about Fishermens’ concerns about environmental damage caused by sinking of this cement carrier.   Same news also mentioned about Maharashtra government’s claim to recover damages on behalf of fishermen affected by sinking of MV MSC Chitra in 2010.

I read complete story carefully.  The story also brought to my mind environmental damage then done by MSC Chitra, because of her oil spill and by sending hundreds of haz cargo containers which she was carrying on board, to Davy Jones lockers.   And now Fishermen were concerned about environmental harm?  They wanted government to recover damages on their behalf?  This obviously ultimately meant that fishermen were expecting compensation for the damage to Marine ecology.  I really did not know whether to laugh or cry…  It is like letting fox guard henhouse and even compensating the fox if hens die accidental deaths! Is marine ecology fishermen’s personal property?  Are they legal owners of the fish in the seas?  Are they not in a way merest modern day hunter-gatherers?  How can they claim compensation for environmental damage?! This is because, primarily fishermen and even we, all of us take oceans, nature and this entire planet for granted…

msc chitra oil spill

Uniquely among the universe’s known planets, the Earth is a sphere dominated by watery oceans. They cover 70 percent of its surface and are home to a myriad of amazing and beautiful creatures. Life almost certainly originated in the oceans millions of years ago, yet the biological diversity of marine habitats is threatened by the activities of one largely land-based species: us. We presuppose that the oceans are entirely subservient to us; to give us protein rich food and to absorb our rubbish.  And because of our arrogant activities based on this presupposition, oceans are in great jeopardy.  Problems are plenty.  Fishermen have already over-fished and bottom trawled the oceans and seven out of 10 commercial fish species are fully or over-exploited already; we are releasing our sewage untreated into seas and entire food chain is getting contaminated; our fertilisers and pesticides are running off into oceans and marine fauna is dying from cyanide poisoning and pollution-linked diseases; our ships are spilling oils and losing cargo laden containers and suffocating marine ecology… the list is unending.  If we continue on our present course of haphazard extraction and disturbance of important parts of our oceans, we risk existence of our future generations on this planet.

Marine pollution has reached unprecedented heights (or actually depths!) and every human being is equally responsible for this menace.  It is an irony that I am writing articles on marine pollution and still for me and my family’s livelihood, I am working in shipping industry which is one of the major contributors to this harm. I would rather be known in life as honest sinner, than a lying hypocrite.  Shipping people especially therefore need to understand this issue even better.

Understanding of problem can be first step towards at least mitigating it.  With this in mind, I am starting this new series of articles which are intended to enlighten you about various aspects of ocean ecosystem services, marine pollution, vessel source pollution and so on… Objective of these articles is to help you understand what we do on land and what happens in the sea.  It’s food for thought or to be more precise it’s ‘sea’-food for thought, you can relish and ruminate on again and again!

From the sea to shining sea, as they say, human societies have relied on the marine environment for food, commerce, and transportation for thousands of years in the history.  To take advantage of this magnanimity, ancient civilizations sprang up on coasts of inland seas and oceans where fish were abundant and trade was relatively easy to arrange. In addition to the bounty harvested by humans, oceans also gave life in many ways that we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate now. Archaeological evidence reveals that early age human beings began building boats as far back as 800,000 years ago, which suggests that people turned to the sea for food long before fields were ploughed for planting and agriculture. Even before the earliest human settlements, people hunted and gathered shellfish and small fish, supplementing food they collected on land, which continues even today.

Very little we know even today how much our life depends on the oceans and what a plethora of services oceans offer us.  From regulating our temperature cycles and climates, to control timely monsoons, to impart oxygen in the atmosphere and even to offer philosophical and spiritual values; oceans’ services are endless.  These services are “valued” in the trillions of dollars annually by recent economic estimates. In reality, though, they are invaluable. Our being on this planet depends on oceans.  Till recent times humanity never understood this important fact of life.  Human species treated oceans as inexhaustible both in terms of what they could produce and in terms of what they could absorb. Because of the tides that seemed to wash nearly everything away, it looked as though humanity could do no more than temporarily disturb the waters closest to shore. That oceans could buckle under the weight of human activities was inconceivable. Over the last few decades, surplus human activities have severely affected the marine life on the Earth’s oceans. This is ocean pollution.

Ocean pollution, also known as marine pollution, is the spreading of harmful substances such as oil, plastic, industrial and agricultural waste and chemical particles into the ocean. Since oceans provide home to wide variety of marine animals and plants, it is responsibility of every citizen to play his or her part in making these oceans clean so that marine species can thrive for long period of  time.

In next articles we will dwell more on this topic but before diving deep, we will see details of ocean of services offered by oceans.  Thank you and good day!

Milind Joshi

Ocean underwater background

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