Today, 8 June, World Oceans Day comes amid a paradoxical situation. Due to confinement measures to contain the COVID-19 spread, the world’s coasts and oceans have experienced an unexpected relief already showing on the seabed and in endangered species.
The date, set by the United Nations, is more than a reminder of the importance of the oceans in our lives and for the survival of future generations. Climate change has been heavily impacting on the chemical balance of the seas, which in turn has also affected coastal regions, particularly in areas prone to typhoons or hurricanes.
Garbage islands, especially those made of plastic, mostly in the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, are just an example of the catastrophe looming over the oceans, already affected by the erosion that waves cause on the coasts carrying large amounts of debris.
Coinciding with the World´s Oceans Day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling to restrict swordfish and some species of shark fishing, among other measures to protect marine life. We cannot ignore the fact that ocean exploitation, both commercial and sport fishing, must begin to follow the rules of the new reality triggered by climate change.
Puerto Rico represents an example of the urgent need to re-evaluate how to protect the beaches, especially coral reefs, a natural landmark plagued by illegal dumping, indiscriminate boating, and large amounts of debris from coastal landslides.
In the coming months, the end of the confinement will probably coincide with the most active period of beach and maritime activities in general. The fact that, in some coastal areas, used masks and gloves have already appeared is an indication of what may happen once resorts finally open, in the face of a lack of greater awareness about our most precious resource.
Recently, there was an investigation into the “discovery” of some coral fragments that had allegedly been washed ashore and found by a citizen. At the same time, scientists were predicting a possible “coral bleaching” episode due to the high temperatures being recorded in the Atlantic. An expert also said that for the sea to wash away pieces of coral to the shore takes very strong conditions.
The Dominican Republic and Jamaica are two of the countries that benefit most from the biodiversity of their seas. But Puerto Rico is also part of the marvelous 26,000 kilometers of coral reefs that attract tourists from all over the world.
Reducing ocean warming levels, which cause catastrophic phenomena such as Hurricane María, is a global task for every country and citizen in the world. Protecting territorial waters, enforcing laws aimed at conserving marine biodiversity (which exist but are not respected) is also a community task, which cannot be left exclusively to local and federal agencies.
We must seize the opportunity that this break resulting from the pandemic has given us, to start enjoying the sea again from another perspective.
Protecting the privilege of being surrounded by water is another way to rebuild Puerto Rico.