Why I Am an Ocean Optimist

I began my scientific career as a student in Jamaica, where we noted the scarcity of fish due to extreme overfishing, but paid more attention to the bountiful, colorful corals. By the mid-1980s, a few years into my first job, the corals were also gone.

Fast forward 30 years, and I am pummeled daily by news of dissolving baby oysters, collapsing fisheries, growing dead zones, and mounting tons of plastic, not to speak of fresh images of seabirds once again soaked in oil.

The ocean was once considered too vast for us to harm. But today, all evidence suggests that ocean habitats throughout the world are endangered by the quadruple threats of pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, and carbon emissions.

Yet I am still optimistic that we can reverse our course, put in the work to rebuild and protect ocean habitats, and improve our ocean’s health, for our own good and that of marine life.

Where does my ocean optimism come from?

Two years ago, I spent a month diving in the Southern Line Islands. These reefs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean didn’t get the doomsday message. Vibrant coral carpets the seafloor, and turtles and manta rays and groupers roam. The reefs seem to be surviving, indeed thriving, even though they are bathed in the warmer and more acidic waters caused by the burning of fossil fuels. What is their secret? It’s quite simple: They are resilient thanks to the abundance of fish and the lack of pollution coming from the land, a pattern seen around the world.

Sharks represent another cause for hope despite catastrophic overfishing caused by the demand for shark fins used in shark-fin soup. Why? There is growing public disgust with the images of still-living, finless sharks dumped —> Read More