La planète bleue qu’on appelle la Terre

Trois quarts de la planète est couverte d’eau. Le biologiste Jamie Steel nous le rappelle en soulignant le rôle crucial des océans. Les problèmes environnementaux ont certainement pris de l’ampleur mais le peu de connaissances accumulées quant à la relation entre la mer et la terre pose un obstacle difficile à franchir.

Les océans ont donné forme à toutes les espèces. Le plancton qui repose sur le sol marin continue à nourrir toutes les espèces en produisant la majorité de l’oxygène atmosphérique. En plus, les espèces marines agissent comme capteurs de carbone, contribuant à équilibrer le montant de dioxyde de carbone dans l’atmosphère.

Selon Jamie Steel, il est grandement temps que les efforts se tendent vers des recherches qui permettraient de mieux comprendre la relation entre la terre et la mer.

Thinking Green on a
Blue Planet

Jamie Steel
Marine Biologist
October 1998

t.gif (259 bytes)he world's oceans connect us all. We cannot have basic understanding of the planet as an interrelated system without knowing how oceans work. In fact, our oceans provide us with the best examples of how we are interconnected with the world around us and the problems and potentials that may arise because of this "interconnectedness".

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(photo: Jamie Steel)

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"The World's oceans
connect us all..."
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Someone once said that the ocean's bottom is much more interesting than the moon's behind! It certainly caught my attention and gave me cause to reason that if we spent as much time exploring the oceans as we did the world's beyond our atmosphere, we would better understand how this planet functions and our relationship to it.

The world's oceans have been described by many as the great global commons. Although this may be true, they are also a great meeting place. A meeting place of time, a meeting place of energy and a meeting place of life.

Planet Earth should really be referred to as Planet Ocean!

Seventy two percent of the planet is covered with water. It is this fact, together with an optimum supply of energy from the sun and the resulting chemical reactions, that has given rise to life as we know and experience it. The oceans are our roots in their most elemental sense! The oceans set the stage for the meeting of past and present.

This liquid reality continues to be responsible for much of what happens on our planet. Not only has life evolved in and from the oceans, but much of what makes up our atmosphere and the way energy is distributed over the planet is regulated by these vast basins of water. Heat from the tropics is transported north, and cold water from the polar basins is moved south via great water currents such as the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current. Water evaporating from the oceans’ surface create clouds. These, combined with winds created by a rotating earth and the transfer of energy, are the basis for much of our day to day weather. Changes in ocean temperatures affect global climate patterns, as evidenced by the El Nino experience.

Consider the following. A single molecule of water evaporated from the ocean can follow any number of complex paths in the hydrological cycle. Regardless of the path or the length of time involved, the molecule will make its way back to the ocean. In one way or another, that water molecule will affect humans and their wide range of activities. It may be direct in the form of precipitation or shade from clouds, or indirect through nourishing plants and animals, or eroding rivers and coastlines.

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(photo:Jamie Steel)

Meeting Place of Life

More fundamentally, countless phytoplankton, microscopic single-celled plants, living at the ocean's surface bloom and produce the majority of our atmospheric oxygen. In addition these organisms are the base of the ocean food chain and, consequently, among the most important of all living things. Where there is creation of oxygen there is also a use of carbon dioxide. The oceans, via the process of photosynthesis and the production of shells and coral by its inhabitants, also act as huge carbon sinks, helping to regulate the build-up of carbon dioxide gas above the earth's surface.

At its depths, oases of "new life" have been recently discovered. The deep sea trenches and associated thermal vents off the Galapagos Islands and the coast of British Columbia have yielded strange new species of life not dependent on light, but sulphur instead.

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(photo:Jamie Steel)


Meeting of Culture

To fully understand the cultural values of many peoples on the globe we must first realise the relationships they have or have had with the ocean. One of the primary reasons for European exploration of our country was fish! And it is the harvest of these living marine resources that have contributed to many nations' history and heritage. Consider the importance of the ocean when confronted with the fact that 28 of the world's 35 largest cities are coastal or located on an estuary. The world lives at the ocean's doorstep.

Closer to home, Canada, from sea to sea to sea. From the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific, all but two of our provinces or territories are adjacent to salt water. Because of this we have the longest coastline in the world and a future that will be intimately related to it.

And yet most of what we teach and learn about in school, and most of what we consider in business and yes, even most of what we have focussed our environmental awareness and management on is based on our own relationship to "Terra Firma". Although the oceans have become more of a focus of study and contemplation in recent years, they will have to become a greater focus of attention in the years to come. In many ways, in fact in more ways than we know, the oceans as cultural, economic, environmental and political realities will provide the Canadian and global citizen with an incredible challenge. Many basic and complex questions will have to be posed and answers sought. Many linkages and co-operative ventures must be established as we help to create our future and a future for our oceans.

Our Oceans now must become a meeting place of minds.