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Valerie Miles

Without healthy oceans, life on earth would be impossible to sustain.


When the 60s Canadian pop singer Joni Mitchell crooned that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone", she could easily have been talking about the Canadian codfish industry. The pristine shores of Canada have, over time, lost a very important element in their marine ecosystem; namely, the fish. The once abundant coastal fish population has been irresponsibly exploited into near nonexistence by a host of nations, as well as by Canada itself. And there is no excuse here; no ecological due to human waste products or toxic spilis, no Exxon Valdez. Just unrestrained human greed, pure and simple.

Now Canada, known for being a peaceful country with conservationist-friendly politics and environmentally correct legislation, has suddenly acquired a rather crotchety attitude towards other nations who venture too close to her shoreline. Perhaps there is still a chance to recover the marine life that had once been so abundant in this area. Perhaps the free-for-all on codfish will now be limited to Canadian fishermen. lt's hard to tell. But the point is that this incident has set off a damaging ripple of consequences that not only affects the delicate marine ecosystems, but also thousands of people whose sole source of income came from the bounty of these shores.

The ecosystem had survived the Portuguese, who learned how to salt cod in the 15th century and began fishing near these shores long before Columbus discovered America. But now, fishing has become a big money industry, and modern methods have turned it more into harvesting than hunting. For the ocean, that means man has become a formidable predator, one whose arrogance before the natural order has directly led to the unnatural extinction of thousands of species on the planet. The fact is, life on the planet can continue with one or two species less. But not without the oceans; the planet would never be able too sustain life without the oceans. More than 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water. For this reason, many scientists call Earth the "water planet". The various names we use to geographically locate the bodies of water that dot our maps are in reality all part of the same ocean.

There is a curious example to prove this; the freighter Hansa Carrier encountered a severe North Pacific storm, causing a large part of her cargo to spill overboard, including 61,000 Nike shoes. A year later, beachcombers from Oregon, Washington and the Canadian coasts were finding thousands of Nike shoes washing ashore. More shoes were found on the north end of the Big Island of Hawaii, which sparked the interest of oceanographers who charted the path of the shoes and surmised that, if the shoes survive the elements, within 5 to 7 years they will wash up on the shores of the Philippines and Japan. Another spill of 29,000 toys from a container vessel en route from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington, left rubber duckies floating across the Bering Sea and freezing in the transpolar drift which carries ice over the North Pole. They are expected, by the year 2001, to pass through the Gulf Stream and wash onto the beaches of the British Isles! The world water system is interconnected, which means that what happens in one area affects all of us at one time or another, making the idea of finding an international code of conduct truly imperative to all of us.

From the rain that nourishes crops, to life-saving medicines; from the fish that provide food, to the goods that are transported on the sea's surface, the ocean plays a role in our lives some way, every day. Globally, fish and seafood represent one-fifth of the animal protein and 5% of the total protein in the human diet. Over 70% of our natural resources are borrowed from the sea, and human life has traditionally conglomerated near her shores. Today, more than 60% of the human population live in coastal areas. Yet the statistics of what we are doing to the oceans are more than astonishing, and what becomes clear is that we are sitting back and allowing billions of gallons of sewage, pesticides and industrial chemicals to flow into the sea every day, destroying fisheries, ecosystems, and, ultimately, ourselves.

Some examples of the way we abuse our oceans are that 60% of the  Pacific and 35% of the Atlantic Coast shorelines are eroding at a rate of a meter every year. One cruise ship anchor was found to have destroyed a coral reef the size of half a football field in one day. More than 2 million sea birds have fallen victim to plastic trash. In 1988, a pollution-related virus killed nearly half of a population of North Sea seals. In 1990, more than 6,000 Mediterranean dolphins died from a virus caused by pollution. There are only 2,400 California otters left. More than twice that number were killed in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez. The crashed tanker Sea Empress leaked 20 million gallons of crude oil across 50 miles off the coast of Wales, nearly double the size of the Exxon Valdez. Of the U.S. beaches monitored, 3,500 were temporarily closed due to sewer contamination. The most frequently found items in beach clean-ups are, in order: pieces of plastic, plastic foam, plastic utensils, pieces of glass and cigarette butts. Run-off pollution (car oils, sewage, fertilizers, etc.) is responsible for 60% of the primary water pollution in the U.S. Pollutants entering the oceans worldwide carne from air emissions (33%) and from run-off in rivers and streams (44%).

The sum of these statistics is frightening, and they are but a few instances of what is happening to the earth's final frontier. The message is absolutely clear; our arrogance is killing us.


A report on climatic change by a panel of United Nations experts concludes that global warming is occurring. They are 90 to 95% convinced that the chief cause of the changes is the emission of greenhouse gases.

They predict that the average sea level world-wide will rise more than 18 inches by 2100, making many heavily populated river delta regions uninhabitable, inciuding entire cities, mostly in Asia.

The U.S. eastern seaboard, already disappearing at the rate of 2-3 feet a year, will be all gone in 25 years.

Source: Speak Up


codfish / cod: lean white flesh of important North Atlantic food fish; usually baked or poached (bacalao)
shore: the land along the edge of a body of water (costa)
namely: as follows, that is to say (a saber)
unrestraíned: extreme (desenfrenado)
greed: avarice (codicia, avaricia, avidez)
crotchety: having a difficult and contrary disposition (arisco)
to venture: to proceed somewhere despite the risk of possible dangers (atreverse, osar)
ripple: chain reaction (reacción en cadena)
to salt: to add salt (salar)
harvesting: the gathering of a ripened crop (recolección, cosecha)
predator: any human or animal that lives by preying on others (depredador)
freighter: a cargo ship (buque de carga)
to spill: to cause or allow a liquid substance to run or flow from a container (derramar)
beachcomber: beach cleaner (rastreador de playa, raquero)
to spark: to put in motion (despertar)
to surmise: to speculate (suponer, conjeturar)

vessel: a craft designed for water transportation (buque, embarcación)
crop: the yield from plants in a single growing season (cultivo)
sewage: waste matter carried away in sewers or drains (aguas residuales)
coral reef: submerged ridge of rock or coral near the surface of the water (arrecife de coral)
there are only ... left (sólo quedan ...)
otter: carnivorous mammal having webbed and clawed feet and dark brown fur (nutria)
tanker: A cargo ship designed to carry crude oil in bulk (petrolero)
sewer: a waste pipe that carries away sewage or surface water (cloaca)
clean-up: the act of making something clean (limpieza)
foam: a mass of small bubbles formed in or on a liquid (espuma, esponja)
butt: the end of a cigarette that is left after smoking (pucho, colilla)
run-off: surplus liquid as water exceeding the limit or capacity (filtración, desagüe)
sum: final amount (suma)
instances: examples (ejemplos)