Why We Should Care
For many coastal communities, the survival of marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity is essential to their nutritional, spiritual, societal and religious well-being. But even for the many millions of people who may not think that they have any strong reliance on the ocean, marine ecosystems and wildlife provide all kinds of benefits.
Many coastal environments provide protection for those farther inland from the ravages of the sea. Coral reefs buffer land from waves and storms and prevent beach erosion. Dune systems on beaches stabilize shorelines from erosion and encroachment. Mangroves, mudflats and deltas trap sediment, preventing the land behind it from sliding ever-seaward.
The ocean world is in all our daily lives. For example, sponges from the Mediterranean have been used for painting, cooking, cleaning and even contraception for at least 5,000 years. Substances derived from seaweeds stabilize and thicken creams, sauces, and pastes, are mixed into paint and used to make paper and even in skin lotion and toothpaste.
Many marine plants and animals also contain a multitude of substances already being used, or identified as being of potential use, in medicines. Each of the 700 known species of cone snail produces a unique cocktail of 100 to 200 toxins, some of which have already been developed into pain killers: one, which has been on the market since 2004, is more than 100 times more powerful than morphine. A 2010 study predicted the existence of between 250,000 and close to 600,000 chemicals in the marine environment, approximately 92 percent of which remained undiscovered; those chemicals, the study’s authors estimated, might yield up to 214 new anti-cancer drugs, worth anywhere from US $563 billion to $5.69 trillion.
Most importantly of all, tiny marine plants called phytoplankton produce energy, like plants on land, through photosynthesis. As a result of that photosynthesis, they release oxygen. In fact, phytoplankton release half of all oxygen in the atmosphere.
Without life in the ocean, there would be no life on Earth.
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