A polar bear managed to get on one of the last ice floes floating in the Arctic sea. Due to global warming the natural environment of the polar bear in the Arctic has changed a lot. The Arctic sea has much less ice than it had some years ago. (This images is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now). Photo: iStock

The fifth annual World Ocean Summit concluded this month in the Mexican coastal town of Playa del Carmen. The US was conspicuously absent when participants from 36 countries discussed the Earth’s oceans and its problems. Human survival depends on these vast salty waters.

Lack of interest from the US, China and India, three of the world’s largest countries with coastal populations, matched the incongruous lack of media coverage of matters concerning more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.

Our land-based life is extraordinarily water-dependent. Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface, and the human body has over 60% water content. In the evolution of necessity as mother of invention, our future seems destined nearer to the underwater realm of Poseidon, the mythical god of the seas, than to inhabiting Mars or planets light-years away in outer space.

The survival of oceans as a source of sustenance for humanity depends on how fast we can save them from our carelessness, pollution and greed. It’s a race against time

Canada – with the world’s longest coastline (202,080 kilometers) – participated in the World Ocean Summit, and oceans are a major focus of its current presidency of the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States).

“Canada is committed to action and showing leadership for the world’s oceans … addressing marine litter will be a priority,” Caroline Thériault from the Canadian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change explained in an e-mail to Asia Times. “Our government made the single largest investment in national history to protect our oceans, with a C$1.5 billion [US$1.15 billion] Oceans Protection Plan.”

The Ocean Protection Plan, which involves indigenous people, local stakeholders and coastal communities, aims to create a pollution-free, marine safety system that both serves economic growth and protects coasts and waterways for generations.

To involve the present generation, Canada has launched an initiative called the Oceans Youth Innovation Challenge for young people in the crucial G7 countries:

The Blue Garden’s deep sea promenade in the Japanese underwater city project Ocean Spiral.

Our future connects to the oceans. With growing global population and longer lifespans, it is more a question of “when” than “if’” off-coast habitations appear: maybe ships like apartment buildings, floating residential complexes like oil rigs, even underwater cities – like the 115-year-old Japanese construction company Shimizu Corporation’s The Ocean Spiral, a deep-sea city of the future:

A race against time

The survival of oceans as a source of sustenance for humanity depends on how fast we can save them from our carelessness, pollution and greed. It’s a race against time.

We already face a global water crisis, with Cape Town in coastal South Africa this year becoming the first city to run out of water. Cape Town hotel guests are asked to take “two-minute showers,” which seems bizarre for a city on the sea when the oceans contain 95% of the planet’s water. Purified seawater will inevitably supply future needs, and it means urgent work must be done to protect oceans.

What affects the oceans affects us. More than 40% of the global population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast; two-fifths of the world’s cities with populations between 1 million and 10 million are coastal. Eleven such cities are in Asia, including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Jakarta.

‘The ocean and us’ – a four-minute BBC film, with David Attenborough  as narrator and music from Hans Zimmer:

Unregulated economic activity is destroying ocean life: illegal fishing that wipes out entire species of marine life, plastic waste, and the impending extinction of coral reefs in increasingly acidic seas (carbon dioxide reacting with seawater to form carbonic acid).

Strange weather patterns resulting from climate changes cause destructive flooding in cities, warning us of an almost inevitable watery end for coastal centers.

“In terms of sea level rise, we really are at a very critical juncture,” Rishi Aggarwal, an environmental activist with the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, told The Associated Press. “But we continue to build housing and infrastructure along the coast. Society does not seem to be cognizant of the risks.”

The rising seas threaten 470 million to 760 million people living in the world’s coastal regions. The great seaside cities of New York, Hong Kong and Sydney may one day go the same way as cities lost underwater in millennia past.

Mysterious underwater world

With deadly appropriateness, the sea god Poseidon is also god of tsunami-causing earthquakes. Maybe in AD 15,018 divers will discover a long-submerged Mumbai, with perhaps similar mythical status as the fabled Atlantis.

Deep-sea explorers discovered underwater remains of ancient Dwarka off India’s west coast (Where mythology meets reality: sunken city of Dwarka) in 1998, French archeologist Franck Goddio found remains of the fabulous palace of Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt (69-12 BC), in the sunken island of Antirhodos, Alexandria.

French divers lift a sphinx from the Mediterranean Sea off Alexandria, Egypt, from the sunken island of Antirhodos where Cleopatra lived in her palace during the Ptolemeic era. Antirhodos sank more than 1,600 years ago after a series of earthquakes.

I was born on a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, lived my life until now in coastal cities, and the ocean grips my mind. As the sun sinks in a golden glow on Marine Drive – a two-minute walk from where I write this – the endless horizon of the sea gives an illusion of happy infinity, amid the finite certainty of all that arises in the cosmos sooner or later passing away.

Change being the only constant, human life will evolve beyond familiar land; deep waters of the Earth beckon, maybe before inhabiting extraterrestrial real estate.

The deepest known part of Earth’s oceans is called the “Challenger Deep,” and is 11,033 meters beneath the western Pacific Ocean, in the Mariana Trench about 321 kilometers southwest of the US island of Guam. Divers can reach less than 5% of that depth….

Yet the Census of Marine Life discovered 2.5 million species living in that 5% of water, compared with 6.5 million species on 30% of land.

What wonders await discovery in the mysterious underwater world of which we know so little – and yet forms more than 70% of the surface of our home planet.

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Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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