The importance of preserving the oceans for the maintenance of life on Earth


Celebrated annually on June 8, Oceans Day was declared by the United Nations (UN) at the Earth Summit in 1992. In 2008, the date was raised to a worldwide commemoration, and the concern for the oceans and for the future of the planet gained new debates and mobilizations around the globe.

The oceans are considered the “true lungs of the world”, responsible for half of the oxygen (O2) that all species – marine or not – breathe. Even those who live far from the sea are influenced by it, whether by regulating the climate, maintaining biodiversity, providing food or ensuring their own breathing.

In 2021, World Oceans Day had as its theme “The ocean: life and livelihoods”. On the occasion, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, went public with an emphatic appeal for humanity to become even more aware of the importance of the oceans and end what he calls the “war against nature”. In his message, Guterres warned of the consequences of maritime devastation and recalled that, today, more than three billion people around the world survive through the oceans.

The secretary general also highlighted the economic, cultural and social role of the oceans, which could be compromised if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to run rampant. “Carbon emissions are causing oceans to warm and acidify, destroying biodiversity and causing sea level rise, which threatens densely populated coasts,” notes Guterres.

According to 2019 scientific climate studies, the oceans are warming 40% faster than estimated in 2014 by the UN. The math is simple: the more GHG emissions, the more they retain atmospheric heat. As a result, the chances of serious complications for the oceans and life on Earth also increase, due to the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, more severe and recurrent weather events, the destruction of ecosystems and food chains, among others.

Established earlier this year, the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)” is yet another UN call for signatory countries to the Organization to continue their efforts in favor of the oceans. The decade will provide a unique opportunity for nations to work together to develop the global ocean science needed to support the sustainable development of the ocean we share. Mitigating climate change in the long term and acting globally is considered one of the most imperative ways to contain the advance of global warming and, as a result, protect the oceans and life as a whole.

Aligning with goals such as those proposed by the Paris Agreement and the Business Ambition for 1.5ºC are some of the actions that companies, governments and society can take to combat irreversible damage to the oceans. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 14 (life below water) also works specifically on the conservation and responsible use of ocean resources.

As they play a fundamental role in sustaining life on Earth, the preservation of the oceans is urgent! By encouraging the reduction of GHG emissions based on climate science, movements such as Impacto NetZero contribute to this conservation.

Check out some fun facts about the oceans.

Lungs of the world

According to the Climate and Ocean GT, from the Observatory of Climate, the oceans release to the atmosphere more than half of the oxygen that living beings breathe. In addition, they capture ⅓ of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by humanity, which is used for marine plants’ respiration and returned as O2 to the atmosphere. This process regulates the biogeochemical cycles and the Earth's average temperature.

Planet Water

Ocean water represents more than 90% of the total water volume on the Earth's surface, according to information from the Discovery Channel. It also means that most aquatic species on the planet are found in them. Still, an estimated 95% of the planet's oceans remain unexplored to this day.

Conservation units

Maritime Conservation Units (CUs) are large oceanic areas legally managed to protect natural resources and aquatic biodiversity. In Brazil, as GT Clima e Oceano explains, there are two categories of UCs: “full protection (for the protection of Nature) or for sustainable use (for the sustainable exploitation of renewable resources)”. It is the UCs that assure, for example, more responsible fishing and the defense of communities that depend on the oceans.

Floating laboratory

According to CNN, the construction of a floating laboratory financed by the French government to study the concentration of carbon in the ocean should be completed in 2024. The Polar Pod vessel will research the impact of GHGs and climate change in the Atlantic Ocean, with a focus on the Antarctic Sea.

To find out more about the universe of the oceans, check out seven documentaries available online.