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Editorial: An ocean of wonder

Editorial: An ocean of wonder

Do you remember Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak? It turns out wizards aren’t the only ones who can vanish from sight with a special coat. Marine researchers have discovered shrimp-like crustaceans called hyperiids that can hide in the open using internal nanotechnology to cloak themselves in invisibility. That’s just one among many fascinating ocean discoveries to celebrate (World Oceans Day was June 8, celebrated in Sechelt on June 10.)

Last summer, scientists confirmed the elusive Greenland shark can live up to 400 years, beating out ancient bowhead whales and rougheye rockfish for the longest documented lifespan of any vertebrate. Researchers are just starting to learn about the two-metre, scale-free ragfish with cartilage skeleton and flabby flesh found in Alaskan waters, and the faceless fish found in Australian waters, whose eyes, gills and mouth are hidden.

That we’re still discovering new wonders in the oceans is even more reason to protect them. We have a long way to go, though. In early 2016, about three per cent of oceans had formal protection from industrial activities, up from one per cent five years ago.

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-U.S. president Barack Obama issued a joint statement to “substantially surpass” international commitments to reach 10 per cent marine protection, even though Canada has protected less than one per cent so far. Our government is getting started, though. It announced strong protection for globally significant glass sponge reefs near B.C.’s Haida Gwaii earlier this year, ending years of inaction.

Along with increased ocean protection, new technologies are opening up ocean exploration. Researchers are adapting drones to track coastal erosion, map coral reefs, survey penguin populations, assess whale health and even learn about mysterious sea turtle behaviour. Thanks to a microscope that works underwater, scientists are learning how coral polyps interact and about patterns algae use to take over coral ecosystems.

Many whale populations are rebounding after decades of commercial exploitation. Hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century, North Pacific humpback whales were recently reclassified from “endangered” to “special concern.”

Likewise, blue whales off the California coast are showing signs of recovery, currently numbering about 2,000. Nearly exterminated by commercial whaling fleets before receiving worldwide protection in 1967, blue whales remain one of the rarest marine mammals, numbering between 10,000 and 25,000 worldwide.

Earth’s oceans still face many overwhelming challenges and political obstacles, yet the resilience of nature and ecosystems is powerful. If we can rally around actions that protect rich ocean biodiversity, they can continue to provide an endless bounty of wonder and treasure.   David Suzuki

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