The view out of my office window shows a quiet ocean engulfed in a tranquility that seems impossible to rock as if it had been stable for millions of years. Yet I know from experience how the sound of a boat slicing through the surface water or the sharp whine of a floatplane trying to get airborne can tear apart this serene image in seconds. Not only the way we use the ocean changes, but the environment beneath the calm surface is changing fast.
Just a few days after my last column about squid was printed, I was sent a link for a web streaming of the dissection of the largest colossal squid ever brought to the surface. The animal was caught last December in the Ross Sea in Antarctica and pulled to daylight from over a mile down. A picture on the news release shows the captain of the fishing vessel holding two of the squids tentacles up while the animal is sprawled out on deck. It looks like someone made a large mold of a schoolbus, filled it with jello, and dumped it too early, so that the jello wasn’t quite set. A huge blob of purplish goop fills the entire deck of the boat and the captain looks dwarfed, holding tentacles the size of school children.
A week earlier, another exciting news story from the other pole told the world about the discovery of the wreck of one of the two vessels lost in 1846 during the ill-fated Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest passage. Where Franklin was defied by polar ice 170 years ago several boats and ships pass by every year now.
At both poles of the world the ocean reveals secrets it has held preserved from our prying curiosity for a long time. As the ice breaks up, recedes and melts into the ocean however, it is not just gone. A lot of cold water containing much less salt than the surrounding ocean creates trouble. Major oceanographic events change temperature regimes and currents. Ocean currents are responsible for heat transfer around the globe; they determine what climate region you find on the adjacent continents and what kinds of plants and animals can thrive on land and in the coastal seas.
Many scientists are thinking hard about how to predict some of the changes in world climate. As the planet is changing, so is our approach to what is happening around us. We are beginning to realize that you can no longer look at ecosystems without taking human factors into account and you can no longer think about development without taking the ecosystem effects into consideration. The approach to manage a species without monitoring its environment is outdated. More or less effectively, we went from single species management to ecosystem management and are now heading for the integrated management of human and ecological systems called “socio-ecological ecosystem stewardship”.
What does this mean for each of us? If you have been trying to reduce your carbon footprint by driving a smaller car, insulating your house, upgrading your hot water system, using a refillable coffee cup or growing your own vegetables, you are on the right track. As a system, a household, a community, or an Island, we can prepare for changes by becoming more resilient, more self-reliant, more independent, and more versatile. If you think that the polar ice melt has nothing to do with you, think again. The whole planet is a system in which one change leads to other changes. I try to take that as encouragement for what I do.
By the way, Sept. 22 was World Climate Day! It was the largest demonstration ever for action towards clean energy with six times the number of demonstrators in the streets around the world. If you are interested, go to https://secure.avaaz.org/de/climate_march_reportback/?bSfBLab&v=46387 to see pictures of people around the world crying out for action. Though a couple of people had signed up in Alaska, I could find no news report about any action this weekend. Maybe the views from our windows are still just too tranquilizing, and we still have not woken up to the need for change.