The Importance of the Ocean

Ocean is the vast body of salt water that covers more than three fourths of our planet’s surface. It is a keystone of our world, helping regulate weather and climate, supplying the protein we need to survive and so much more. It’s a source of adventure, exploration, commerce and inspiration for humans and animals alike.

The ocean is the habitat of over 230,000 species. Scientists believe it may actually hold more than twice that number.

Its water, minerals and carbon dioxide are a critical part of the Earth’s biogeochemical cycling systems. The ocean absorbs and releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide every day, and this is a major contributing factor to global warming. In addition, the ocean carries and recycles nutrients that help sustain other marine ecosystems. The nutrient-rich deep waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean are especially important to coral reefs worldwide.

Oceans are also home to many species of fish, birds and mammals, and they provide essential services for humans. These include regulating the climate, providing a means of transport and trade, serving as a source of food and recreation, and contributing to the overall health and productivity of our planet.

Scientists have split the ocean into zones based on physical and biological characteristics. The photic zone (all water from the surface to 1% of the surface light depth) is where most ocean life occurs. It is rich in dissolved oxygen, and it is the source of the marine food chain.

Seafood from the ocean provides nearly 3 billion people with protein, and every plant and animal on the planet gets their water from the Ocean through a process called the water cycle. When the Ocean heats up, it evaporates, creating clouds and increasing air temperature and humidity. This moisture then falls as rain, and it is used by plants, animals and people before returning to the Ocean.

About two thirds of the ocean is outside of national jurisdiction and has little to no management, and this is where the Alliance for Responsible Tourism is working to advocate for a global treaty to increase protections in these high seas areas. One way we can support this work is to make smart choices when traveling to or by the ocean: choose reef-safe sunscreen without oxybenzone, avoid purchasing trinkets that exploit marine life, and never touch or ride wildlife, which can leave human handprints on their skin.

Travelers can also positively impact the ocean by supporting marine-based businesses like fishing and scuba diving, beach and waterfront resorts, yacht charters and sailboat rentals, water sports businesses and holiday accommodations, as well as by purchasing sustainable seafood. Studies show that being near, on or in the ocean can improve our mental health by stimulating the release of serotonin and other chemicals that promote relaxation, well-being and happiness. For more information, see Blue Mind: The Surprising Science of How Being Near, On or In Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected by Wallace Nichols.

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