The ocean covers nearly three-quarters of our Earth’s surface. There are about one million different species that live in these waters, and scientists and explorers have yet to explore 95% of it. Our ocean is deep, vast and so commonly seen in the distant abstract.
But the health of the sea must be understood as our generation’s responsibility. As the celebrated oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer Sylvia Earle once said, “No Ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.” It is the duty of each individual to find innovative solutions and take ownership of the oceanic degradation challenges that lie ahead.
Last February, I was invited to represent Georgetown at a United Nations meeting on the State of Our Oceans. As I took my seat, I was struck by the realization that incredible world leaders surrounded me, including the president of Palau and the permanent representative to the UN from Spain. As the meeting began, each country’s representative raised pressing concerns about the fragile health of our ocean. They spoke passionately about the potential threats that declining ocean health represent for their people’s livelihoods, their territories’ sovereignty and the diverse ecosystems beneath the surface.
After the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet the Ambassador of Palau who introduced me to the Sustainable Oceans Alliance, an organization working to unite public and private energies for social progress, specifically for oceanic conservation. Hoping to bring that presence to Georgetown’s campus, I followed the Ambassador’s suggestion to start a Sustainable Oceans Alliance chapter at Georgetown.
Today, Millennials must heed the call to become more involved in ocean conservation efforts. It is critical for our generation to understand that the oceans are Earth’s source of life, the global regulator of climate and atmospheric chemistry, and an abundant provider of food and income.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, over 1 billion people depend on the ocean for food. While food demand continues to grow, the ocean is yielding fewer and fewer resources. In addition, unsustainable fishing practices have depleted the ocean; 90 percent of the large fish that once roamed are already gone. Storms are intensifying while the coral reefs that block destructive waves are dissolving in ever more acidic water. Mangroves that once prevented beach erosion have disappeared in many places. Nutrient runoff from agriculture has resulted in “dead zones,” three-dimensional spaces of water devoid of oxygen, larger than some states in the United States.
With this in mind, restoring the health of our oceans is the urgent call the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance hopes to make.
In the process of creating the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance, I sought out support from students, administrators, and professors —all whom have made great contributions to the organization. It has been an inspirational experience to see widespread involvement and interest from the Georgetown community, from the Georgetown Office of Public Affairs, The Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the Beeck Center, the Georgetown Environment Initiative, to the Georgetown Board of Governors.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.” The dedication and encouragement that students receive from Georgetown is what makes the Hilltop so special. We are integral parts of a vibrant undergraduate body that can, in fact, change the world —all it takes is the spark of an idea and the commitment of a community to make such a vision a reality.
We cannot afford to pass the buck any longer. It is time for our generation to step up to the plate and act. Every action counts, beginning with educating yourself on the issues. You can begin today by demanding sustainable seafood, reducing plastic use and being mindful of your energy consumption to reduce your carbon footprint. Every Georgetown student —really, each individual living on this planet— should be concerned about the health of our oceans for the sake of our own survival. The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth, and therefore, it should be of paramount importance for humankind.
Daniela Fernandez is a junior in the College.