June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day to celebrate the oceans that cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface. The ocean is a diverse network of ecosystems, 95% of which remains largely unexplored. No one knows exactly how many species call the ocean their home, though estimates go as high as one million. It’s believed that over 90% of these organisms have yet to be formally classified by science.

What’s in the Ocean?

In this world of wonder and mystery, all kinds of unique and amazing creatures can be found. There are fish of all shapes and sizes, including giants like the whale shark, and flying fish that can leap from the water and “fly” over distances of hundreds or even thousands of feet.

 

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Whale Shark Flying Fish

 

There are the great whales and dolphins, from the predatory orca to gentle giants like the right whalesei whale, and blue whale, which can grow to nearly 100 feet long. Strange creatures like the eight-armed octopus, the snake-like moray eel and the spiny pufferfish are just a few of the incredible creatures that can be found in the ocean’s depths.

 

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Sei Whale Giant Pacific Octopus Pufferfish

 

New scientific discoveries are being made all the time. Some creatures, like the coelacanth, were long thought to be extinct for millions of years until the first living species were discovered in the 1930s. A strange species of the shark, the megamouth, was unknown until 1976. And even though giant squids were known from specimens that had washed up on shore, a living example was not officially observed until 2004.

 

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Coelacanth Megamouth Shark Giant Squid

 

The Ocean Under Threat

As vast and diverse as our oceans are, they are under constant threat. In addition to housing some amazing animals, the ocean also serves many important functions that benefit humanity. It generates oxygen, which we breathe, and provides food – humans eat many different organisms from the sea, from fish to crustaceans and even sea weed!

Pollution and climate change are currently causing many unwanted changes to the ocean. Global warming has caused damage to many coral reefs, ecosystems which are home to thousands of important species. Higher water temperatures can cause coral bleaching, which causes coral to turn white and puts them under stress which endangers the entire reef system. Release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, due to human activity, has also caused something called “ocean acidification” which causes harm to many species by throwing off the balance of the ocean’s chemistry.

Another chief concern is pollution, particularly plastics. Single use plastic items like grocery bags and straws make their way to the ocean, and can harm animals if swallowed. You can help by reducing or eliminating such plastic items in your daily life. Use reusable straws, bags and bottles, rather than single use items. If you must use single use items, make sure to recycle them properly, rather than simply throwing them away.

What Else Can You Do to Help?

In addition to reducing single use plastic items, you can visit WorldOceansDay.org to learn about events and activities that promote cleaning our ocean and restoring its natural beauty.

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