The world's oceans have been described by many as the great global
commons. Although this may be true, they are also a great meeting place. A meeting place
of time, a meeting place of energy and a meeting place of life.
Planet Earth should really be referred to as Planet Ocean!
Seventy two percent of the planet is covered with water. It is this fact, together with
an optimum supply of energy from the sun and the resulting chemical reactions, that has
given rise to life as we know and experience it. The oceans are our roots in their most
elemental sense! The oceans set the stage for the meeting of past and present.
This liquid reality continues to be responsible for much of what happens on our planet.
Not only has life evolved in and from the oceans, but much of what makes up our atmosphere
and the way energy is distributed over the planet is regulated by these vast basins of
water. Heat from the tropics is transported north, and cold water from the polar basins is
moved south via great water currents such as the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current. Water
evaporating from the oceans surface create clouds. These, combined with winds
created by a rotating earth and the transfer of energy, are the basis for much of our day
to day weather. Changes in ocean temperatures affect global climate patterns, as evidenced
by the El Nino experience.
Consider the following. A single molecule of water evaporated from the ocean can follow
any number of complex paths in the hydrological cycle. Regardless of the path or the
length of time involved, the molecule will make its way back to the ocean. In one way or
another, that water molecule will affect humans and their wide range of activities. It may
be direct in the form of precipitation or shade from clouds, or indirect through
nourishing plants and animals, or eroding rivers and coastlines.
Meeting Place of Life
More fundamentally, countless phytoplankton, microscopic single-celled plants, living
at the ocean's surface bloom and produce the majority of our atmospheric oxygen. In
addition these organisms are the base of the ocean food chain and, consequently, among the
most important of all living things. Where there is creation of oxygen there is also a use
of carbon dioxide. The oceans, via the process of photosynthesis and the production of
shells and coral by its inhabitants, also act as huge carbon sinks, helping to regulate
the build-up of carbon dioxide gas above the earth's surface.
At its depths, oases of "new life" have been recently discovered. The deep
sea trenches and associated thermal vents off the Galapagos Islands and the coast of
British Columbia have yielded strange new species of life not dependent on light, but
Meeting of Culture
To fully understand the cultural values of many peoples on the globe we must first
realise the relationships they have or have had with the ocean. One of the primary reasons
for European exploration of our country was fish! And it is the harvest of these living
marine resources that have contributed to many nations' history and heritage. Consider the
importance of the ocean when confronted with the fact that 28 of the world's 35 largest
cities are coastal or located on an estuary. The world lives at the ocean's doorstep.
Closer to home, Canada, from sea to sea to sea. From the Atlantic to the Arctic to the
Pacific, all but two of our provinces or territories are adjacent to salt water. Because
of this we have the longest coastline in the world and a future that will be intimately
related to it.
And yet most of what we teach and learn about in school, and most of what we consider
in business and yes, even most of what we have focussed our environmental awareness and
management on is based on our own relationship to "Terra Firma". Although the
oceans have become more of a focus of study and contemplation in recent years, they will
have to become a greater focus of attention in the years to come. In many ways, in fact in
more ways than we know, the oceans as cultural, economic, environmental and political
realities will provide the Canadian and global citizen with an incredible challenge. Many
basic and complex questions will have to be posed and answers sought. Many linkages and
co-operative ventures must be established as we help to create our future and a future for
Our Oceans now must become a meeting place of minds.