Many years ago Aldo Leopold wrote his classic book “A Sand County Almanac.” In it he advocated for the development of a new land ethic, a new way of examining and reflecting about the natural world. Nature should be seen as much more than a commodity and a source for material goods. His writings had an enormous influence on the modern environmental community and are often cited as important contributors to our current efforts for environmental protection.
I think Leopold’s ideas should also be extended to the ocean. It may seem obvious to those of us who live along the coastline that the land and sea are interconnected and need similar levels of protection. Yet the ocean continues to be an area largely ignored though that may be changing with a new global perspective on environmental issues.
The ocean played a critical role in our understanding of climate change. Rising sea level, more severe coastal storms, and ocean acidification are a few of the effects from climate change. These in turn affect biodiversity and coastal biotic communities. And so our excessive consumption of fossil fuels and our slow transfer to renewable energy has an impact on marine resources, including the vast diversity of life forms in the sea.
What is needed is a new Renaissance or Enlightenment regarding the ocean. Our historical and scientific connections to the sea should be an international focus. The wide exchange of research, information, data, and ideas should be freely shared and available throughout the world. All nations depend on a healthy ocean for their survival. Keep in mind that a majority of the earth’s oxygen production occurs in tiny phytoplankton organisms in the ocean.
I would extend Aldo Leopold’s land ethic to a land and sea ethic. We need an ocean literacy that compels us to consider how our actions on land affect the marine environment. Even if it’s something simple like reducing our use of plastic products, such changes in behavior could help protect the ocean from further deterioration. Imagine if everyone thought twice before purchasing that morning cup of coffee in a disposable container and chose a more suitable and sustainable means of carrying the beverage. Who knows how many marine animals will be saved from a premature death if we simply stopped using plastic bags?
The establishment of a new land and sea ethic means a new way of looking at the world and a new way of behaving in it. It means making difficult choices, ones that benefit other living things. It means that we view ourselves as interdependent participants on a finite planet.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.