**Dr. Eitan Israeli

Might there be a world without life underwater? Our oceans are sick and the outlook is bleak. If we don't wake up and take action now, our planet will be damaged beyond recognition.     

The UN World Oceans National Day observed every year on July 8th. The motto of World Oceans Day this year is "Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet". This motto begs the questions of what is a sick ocean, and how do oceans affect animal and plant life on the planet as a whole?
 
There are those that compare the oceans to the heart of the earth. As the heart supplies blood to all parts of the body, the oceans bring together all the ends of the earth. The oceans have a decisive influence on the earth climate. The oceans produce most of the oxygen that we breathe and they are home to a rich biodiversity which is a source of food, as well as medicines and much more. Therefore, in order to protect our only planet for future generations, it is extremely important that we know to protect its oceans. What about the oceans' health? What will be in the future?

Fringing Reef in Eilat. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Fringing Reef in Eilat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
 
Unfortunately, the news here is more difficult to hear than that from our report from 2 years ago, and it requires the world to wake up and stop the damage of the oceans.
    
Take the coral reefs. The increase in acidity of the oceans (due to absorption of carbon dioxide, the gas causing the greenhouse effect because of its high incidence in the earth's atmosphere and the rise of the oceans since the beginning of the industrial era due to human activity) as well as the general increase in the water's temperature (as part of global warming, and over the past year, as a result of the El Niño phenomenon, which was particularly strong) is bringing several of the world's coral reefs into a crisis from which it is doubtful whether there is a way back. Reefs around the world are degrading and turning white, from the huge coral reefs off the coast of Australia (The Great Barrier Reef) to the coral reefs off the coast of Florida.
 
Some see the coral reefs the rainforests of the oceans - they cover only 0.1% of the bottom of the oceans, but are home to a quarter of its marine species, and their damage will have a far-reaching impact on the oceans' delicate ecological balance. Coral reefs around the world now sick, and to help them recover we should simply stop global warming, prevent over-fishing and avoid spilling sewage and other pollutants in the oceans. Everything is in our hands, and the solutions seem so simple, yet they are actually complex and so difficult to achieve.
 
And if that were not enough, you should be aware of the alarming figure on the level of dissolved oxygen in the oceans waters; oxygen which is a major source of underwater life. According to scientific models, as the oceans heat up, so less oxygen can be dissolved in them. Moreover, the water in the upper layers are always relatively saturated with oxygen due to contact with the atmosphere, but when the water is warmer it is also lighter and thinner, and therefore mix less with the heavier cold water from the oceans' depths, overall worsening the shortage of oxygen.
 
A large survey of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research that combined climate models from the oceans and the atmosphere found that today, there are areas all across the oceans that suffer oxygen distress, and that there is reason to suggest that the situation will get worse over the next few years.
 
Where does that leave us? Some are say that by 2048 - a year predicted by quite a few marine biologists and scientists from other disciplines - there will be no more fish, coral or underwater life as a result of global warming, over-fishing, and pollution.
 
It sounds nasty, but it is not too late to change the situation, and it's very important that we do this together, because healthy oceans are the gateway – some would even say a prerequisite - for a healthy planet. And in the meantime, we are here, in our little country, so let's do whatever we can to conserve the cleanliness of the Mediterranean Sea and the health of the Red Sea, in order to minimize the threats to the beautiful coral reefs along the harbor of Eilat
  
**Eitan Israeli is a Doctor for Operations Research for performance study and a retired colonel, as well as being a graduate of the Sustainability Leaders Fellows Program at the Heschel Center for Sustainability and the editor of Globeblog, the 'Think Globally, Act Locally' blog published in Hebrew on KKL-JNF's eYarok website


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