Respect the Ocean

by Malvika Dekhane

“Behold this unique phenomenon dear Mini!” Mini’s Grandma exclaimed.

“We are standing on the southern-most tip of India. We are facing the Indian Ocean. To our right is the Arabian Sea and to our left is the Bay of Bengal. At Kanyakumari, one can witness the confluence or meeting point of three huge salt-water bodies. Can you see the three distinct colours of the respective waters?”

Mini observed and nodded. She was captivated by the spectacular sight. Eight year old Mini was seeing the sea for the first time in her life. So much water! The waves formed and broke in a rhythm. The water spread up to the horizon! “Grandma, this ocean is so big! Totally jaw-dropping! I had seen it on the television, but this is awesome!” Then she waddled on the beach and waded in the shallow water. Grandma watched her with delight.

Mini had come to spend her vacation with Grandma who lived in Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India. Grandma and Mini had come to observe the sunset. Mini joined grandma and asked, “Grandma, how many minutes to sunset?” “Half-anhour dear. Let us sit down and finish the ice-cream or it’ll melt.” Grandma fished out two ice-cream cups from her basket and handed one to Mini. They finished the ice-cream in a jiffy. Just then a wave broke near their feet. On an impulse Mini threw her ice-cream cup and the spoon into the water. The receding wave carried them away.

“Oh Mini! Why did you do that? The plastic cup and spoon can harm marine life!” Grandma cried in a shocked tone.

“Aw, come on Grandma! How can such a small plastic cup and spoon harm a whale or a dolphin?” Mini asked in an annoyed tone.

“But it can harm a turtle or a fish if they mistake it for food and swallow it. And will you like if somebody throws trash in your house?”

“No, I would fight with them.”

“Do you know, the ocean is home to countless animals, large and small? More than 230, 000 species, right from the microscopic phytoplankton to the huge whale, call the ocean their home? But if we litter their home, they can’t fight back.”

“Oh! I am sorry!”

“We all should be! The ocean is the mother of all life-forms. It is our protector and provider. We owe our very existence and survival to the ocean. And look what we are offering in return- trash, pollution and abuse.”

“Grandma, can you please elaborate? This is news to me. Please Grandma!”

“It is difficult to explain in mere ten minutes, but I’ll try. Tell me, what do you know about the ocean? “

“There are 5 oceans on the Earth. The Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. Then there are seas and bays and gulfs. They have 97% of the total water, but it’s salty.”

“Good! But all these oceans and salt-water bodies are joined and thus many a times referred to as the ocean. The ocean is the largest independent ecosystem on the Earth. In fact, all the land-dwellers are dependent on the ocean for rain-water, oxygen, carbon sequestration and many other things. The ocean acts like a carbon sink wherein it traps carbon-di-oxide, a gas responsible for global warming. This is the hot topic these days.” “Grandma, I know about the water cycle. Water – chiefly sea-water evaporates, forms clouds and returns to the Earth in the form of rain as fresh water. Am I right?”

“Yes dear. So then, no ocean-no rain- no continuous supply of fresh water for the world no forests –no farming – no food and water-no mankind! In fact most of the life forms will be wiped out.”

“I had never thought of this! But Grandma what is Acid rain?” “Good question Mini. Acid rain is acidic in nature. But mankind is responsible for the Acid rain. We release many gaseous pollutants in the atmosphere. Of these Sulphur-dioxide and Nitrogen oxides dissolve in the raindrops and form acids. Thus the rain becomes acidic and is called Acid rain. It is detrimental to foliage and all the water bodies.”

“Hmm. But Grandma, how can the ocean supply oxygen? I don’t see any plants there!” “Well, the ocean has its own flora. The plants in the ocean range from microscopic phytoplankton to huge Kelp. There are seagrasses, algae, Sea lettuce, Eel grass, Tape grass, and Turtle grass, and Manatee seagrass, etcetera. There are underwater forests of marine plants. All these absorb carbon-di-oxide and produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. The phytoplankton which are floating freely in the water 3 produce most of the oxygen of marine –origin. Approximately 70% of oxygen is generated by the sea plants. We must thank the ocean for seven out of ten breaths. Right?”

“Absolutely right.” “The marine plants are food for many a marine fauna. We use them as health food. We also use them in medicines and cosmetics. Sadly the pollutants released by us are damaging the marine flora too. In fact we are releasing so many pollutants into the ocean that it is sick and dying! The marine flora are dying, the coral reefs are dying, the phytoplankton are dying, the huge whales are dying and the tiny fish are dying!”

“That is horrible! Do you mean we humans are responsible for this state of the ocean?”

“Yes. Another menace is the plastic menace. Plastic, when not disposed properly finds its way to the ocean. Single-use plastics like plastic bags, bottles and caps, six-pack rings, straws, plates and cutlery are the chief culprits. Some marine animals mistake the bags, spoons and caps for foods and eat them. Some like whales and sharks consume them inadvertently. The plastics are not digested and choke the guts of the animals and kill them. Millions of animals have perished due to plastics. Ghost nets and fishing gear continue to trap and kill innocent marine animals. Plastics are not biodegradable. But they are photodegradable. The plastics in the ocean are broken down by sunlight in to very tiny or microscopic particles. The resulting sea water is like plastic soup with microscopic to large pieces of plastic. These areas are present as Garbage Patches in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about 1.6million square kilometers in size and is estimated to have 87,000 metric tons of plastic debris. Many more garbage patches have formed in the past decade.”

“This is abominable!”

“The ocean is a great giver. It gives us petroleum and gas, rare minerals, sand, pearls and coral and many other things. Fish is a protein-rich food for many people. The ocean provides employment to millions engaged in fishing, tourism and marine transportation industry. It acts as a climate regulator too. The list is long. But instead of being grateful to the ocean we abuse it, desecrate it. We pollute it with all types of waste like industrial waste, human waste and other harmful waste. The ocean has reached its 4 self-cleansing limit. If it gives up and dies, we too shall perish. I can go on and on but now I’ll stop.”

“Oh Grandma! This is horrible! This is bad, this is sad, it is making me mad with rage. I shouldn’t have thrown the ice-cream cup at the wave. Grandma I feel guilty.”

“Instead of just feeling guilty and getting angry, try to help the ocean!”

“But the damage is already done!”

“It’s never too late Mini. Where there is a will there is a way!

“And How? Please give some tips.”

“Listen carefully. I’ll give you three mantras or maxims to start with.

1) Be a Conscious and intelligent consumer- buy only those items you actually need. Think twice before you buy comfort-goods. Think ten times before you buy luxuries. Dispose trash responsibly. Refuse-Reduce-Reuse- Repurpose – Recycle and Rational disposal of waste is the first mantra for general wellbeing of the Earth’s environment as a whole.

2) Volunteer for clean-ups- whether it’s the ocean or the land. Help clean-up a beach, a pond, your colony or lane. Don’t harm any habitat, big or small.

3) Spread the message. Knowledge is power. Enlighten your friends, classmates and others. Paint the message on walls, conduct road-side plays.”

“Thank you Grandma. This was an eye-opener.” Just then a big wave broke near their bench. It deposited Mini’s ice-cream cup, a plastic bottle and a plastic bag. Grandma looked at Mini and said, “This is your chance Mini!” Mini stood up and said, “Yes, I’ll start this very moment.” She bent and picked up the three trash items and put them in the basket. Then she picked up a few other items too. The bag was full in no time. Grandma pointed at a beautiful conch and said, “Why don’t you pick that up? It’s a gift from the sea. Use it as a paperweight. It will remind you of your resolve.”

“Good idea!” Mini picked up the conch and pretended to blow it. “I am the guardian of the ocean!” she announced proudly.