I list off the most important stories in Ocean Science and Conservation that occurred in 2015. There were a number of stories that could compete with the ones I chose, but this is my show, so I get to choose :-)!
5. Citizen Science/Open Science – We discussed this back in Episode 75, but the surge in citizen science projects and the push to make research more publicly accessible was a major story in 2015. We at SUFB have tried to do our share of this by creating a SUF podcast to disseminate and discuss ocean research to the general public. We’ve also been fortunate enough to share the stories of entrepreneurs and researchers around the world who develop citizen science campaigns. From Heidi Taylor’s efforts to combat plastic pollution in Australia to Andrew David Thaler’s attempt to supply inexpensive oceanographic equipment at an affordable price, there’s so much more science aimed at engaging people without formal scientific training now than there was just a decade ago. This is certainly a promising sign, as we’ll need all the help we can get to combat what’s next on this list.
4. Plastic Pollution – Unfortunately, plastic pollution in our oceans was another major story from this past year. We’ve spoken at length about it in various SUFB podcast episodes, this wicked problem that seems to only be getting worse. The problem really isn’t that complex. We buy and use way too much plastic, much of which ends up in our oceans and kills what lives there. The issue now is figuring out a way to practice more responsible consumption on a global scale. Heidi Taylor’s organization, Tangaroa Blue, works on collecting data on plastic pollution and cutting it off at the source rather than cleaning it up on beaches. SUFB has launched a line of products that not only support our podcast and our partners, but also encourages the use of reusable bottles and bags. Cleaning up our oceans and preventing plastic pollution is critical if we want to continue enjoying number three.
3. Shark Week – Shark week has really gone down hill over the past few years. Discovery channel has shifted away from telling fact-based stories about these majestic ocean predators to showing either fictional mockumentaries about extinct animals that may or may not be (definitely are not) still around or showing the same image of a shark leaping out of the water. Well, this past year Shark Week decided we’d seen enough crap and started showing actual scientifically-informed programs related to shark behavior, biology, and conservation. We interviewed a few different researchers involved in shark conservation this past year, and one thing became very clear: if we want to continue to enjoy the benefits provided by sharks (a stable ecosystem, a healthy ocean, and a thriving ecotourism industry) we need to keep our oceans clean of pollution, combat the next item on this list, and protect these apex predators.
2. El Niño and Climate Change – Yes, we know El Niño is cyclical and could very well have also been one of the top five stories of 1997. We included it on this list, however, because the current El Niño is the strongest we’ve had since. It’s warming effects have already been seen throughout the Pacific, as seals and sea lions starve and wash ashore because their prey has migrated to cooler waters. With the compounding effects of the Blob and climate change, this shift in atmospheric conditions could have long-term detrimental effects on our ocean ecosystems. You can learn more about all of these phenomena by checking out one of our many episodes on the subject. Luckily, number one on this list came about as a direct result of the negative impacts of climate change we’re already seeing across the globe.
1. The COP21 Climate Change Talks – This year, about 180 countries met for two weeks in Paris to discuss what actions we can nationally and internationally take to combat climate change. The talks resulted in the drafting of a legally-binding agreement that requires all member nations to submit and update the U.N. on their domestic goals every five years. Andrew and I have talked this story to death, so I won’t analyze this agreement in too much detail right now. However, it’s important to note that this meeting was one of the first times climate change was brought to the forefront of international policy. The fact that we didn’t have to spend weeks debating the existence of climate change like we’ve had to in the past is a victory itself. It’s going to be a long road ahead if we want to reduce global average temperature rises to 1.5° C above preindustrial conditions. We’ll have to cut carbon emissions, reduce our energy consumption, and increase funding for sustainable technologies and processes. However, countries across the globe made a good first step by meeting in Paris. It’s up to individual nations now to hold their domestic officials accountable and ensure that those in office continue along this path towards a healthier and more sustainable future.
Enjoy the Podcast!