Imagine a world without oceans – it’s like a body without heart – empty, hollow and passionless! The world’s history, heritage, cultural diversity and human evolution are tightly linked to the oceans. Approximately 1.3 Billion cubic km water is present on the Earth, out of which 97.5% is sea, which covers nearly 72% of the Earth’s surface. It is interesting to note that well over 1/3 of the world’s population is found along or very close to coast in each continent, however, it is just 5% of spatially habitable land of Earth.
Oceans are exposed to about 240 Watt per square meter of solar energy. That means the oceans drive the Earth’s climate and weather; control global delivery of heat and freshwater. Oceans provide livelihood for many millions of people around the world through fishing, shipping, military activities and leisure. Oceans are an inseparable entity from human life. It was the oceans where life brewed and through a methodical process of many millions of years we now have diverse species of innumerable types. A reflection of history would clarify that the oceans have been viewed as an inexhaustible resource, moderator of climate, a medium for transport, provider of access and a space for socioeconomic evolution. On the flip side, oceans have also been posing a threat to mankind in the form of storms, floods, sea-level change and erosion for centuries.
Nearly 65% of the world’s cities (each city having a population over 2.5 millions) are located on the coasts. People have been venturing into the seas since pre-historic times to get food like edible seaweeds, mollusks, crustaceans, turtles, fish, sea-birds and marine mammals; salt for food; precious material like ambergris, red coral, pearls, tortoise shell and sea ivory and skin from animals to make dresses or protective clothing. The oceans moderate the climate by playing with the heat – oceans absorb heat when the atmosphere is hot, store heat for some time and then release heat when atmosphere is cold. Additionally, oceans redistribute heat in the large-scale ocean circulation.
Oceans have long been used as a medium for transportation and trade. Evidence suggests that early sea trade was established between people living on the Indus deltaic region and Mesopotamia. Seas provide exceptionally cheap, easy and reliable means of transport than land and air. Human dependence on the oceans for this critical need of life would continue to grow with sea lanes becoming highways for trade and commerce. Oceans, considered as collective human heritage, have this distinguishing characteristic of indivisibility – that means one gets to move around and go any place on the earth connected with oceans. This feature of access has brought a ubiquitous connectivity among nations, societies and cultures and is the fundamental driver of the notions of globalisation, interdependence and global commonness. Oceans have contributed to human socioeconomic evolution in an unequivocal way. Exchange of knowledge and progression created job opportunities transformed societies from mere seafarers to world powers.
Oceans, with these benefits, have often been a source of immense disasters and carnage. Tsunami of 2004 is a stark reminder of how this fluid can wreak havoc in human life, which has been regarded as a ‘fairly large event’ and the 7th great historic disaster of all time. Tsunami was a consequence of an ocean earthquake but a related occurrence of sea-level change is steadily becoming pronounced. Many believe the sea-level change is a consequence of human induced greenhouse effect – i.e, an unnatural rise in oceanic and atmospheric temperatures. Sea level changes are extremely important to human life – as it affects ecosystem and demographics of coastal communities. Over exploitation of sea resources, like excessive fishing, ocean acidification (changes in ocean chemistry due to absorption of CO2), flow of industrial effluents and oil spills are some of the challenges that the oceans are facing – cumulatively these factors are making oceans unhealthier and human unfriendly. Given the countless advantages and a supreme source of human dependency for survival, oceans need our attention. There might not have been a better time to announce the slogan of healthy oceans, healthy planet, on World Oceans Day, than any other time in our contemporary phase of history.
The world has recognised, with the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the crucial impact of deteriorating oceanic changes as a result of natural and manmade factors – but there is still a need to be aware of how changes in oceans can bring disasters for human race.
Pakistan Navy, on its part, has been acting with agility to create awareness about oceans and its role in both ecosystems and economy of Pakistan. Through various seminars, workshops and initiatives at various forums, like the National Centre for Maritime Policy Research, Naval War College and other national think tanks, Pakistan Navy has been instrumental about bringing maritime awareness among masses. This has also helped in lessening of what many believe is a pervasive sea blindness in the country.
Oceans have given us much, it is the time to return back something to the oceans – and it is to stop polluting and over exploiting. We need to realise the profits of a sustainable ecosystem and an enduring man-ocean dialectical binary is supremely significant for our lives – upon which our history, culture and economics greatly depend.
Pakistan Navy, on its part, has been acting with agility to create awareness about oceans and its role in both ecosystems and economy of Pakistan.