06-09 humpback whale

[Image above] Humpback whales are just one of the vast number of animals living in the world ocean. Credit: J. Maughn, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Growing up in landlocked Iowa, I rarely saw large bodies of water except on vacations to the coastal states. But though the ocean was not visibly apparent in my everyday life, its role in the world’s ecosystems is something I and everyone experiences no matter where they live.

As the below graph by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows, the world ocean plays an integral role in regulating climate and weather patterns, providing the oxygen we breathe, and storing the carbon dioxide we expel, among many other things. Yet despite how much the ocean provides, its importance is often underappreciated or unknown—but World Oceans Day looks to change that.

World Oceans Day took place yesterday, June 8. The purpose of the Day is “to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans,” the United Nations webpage explains.

The idea for World Oceans Day started in 1992, when Canada proposed the concept of a World Ocean Day at the decennial Earth Summit. The Ocean Project began global promotion and coordination of a World Ocean Day in 2002, with the WorldOceanDay.org website launching in 2003. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that the United Nations officially recognized June 8 as World Oceans Day (making it a plural “oceans”).

This year’s World Oceans Day is extra special because it is the first within the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which will be held from 2021 to 2030. The goal of this Decade is to provide a common framework to ensure ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the oceans and, more particularly, to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Credit: UNESCO, YouTube

To celebrate World Oceans Day and the beginning of the Decade of Ocean Science, we’ve collected several of our recent CTTs on challenges and solutions related to the world ocean. If you’d like to learn more about the world ocean, you can check out this list of World Oceans Day events taking place around the world.

Mining in the deep

Mining the land for rare earth minerals is a frequent topic of discussion in today’s politically charged climate, as countries look to expand operations outside of China to reduce reliance on the country for production of advanced technologies.

The bottom of the ocean is one place being investigated as a potential mining area for precious minerals and metals. In “Deep sea mining—the search for critical materials dives into dark waters,” we look at the history of deep sea mining and some of the international regulations governing the process. In “Exploring effects of deep sea mining: Polymetallic nodule extraction may cause long-term reduction of carbon flow throughput,” we consider some of the environmental impacts that may come from deep sea mining.

While deep sea mining is an emerging ocean industry, extraction of sand from marine environments is an ongoing practice with substantial effects on the environment. In “Sand—a critical material resource with a complicated story and no simple solution,” we look at the scale of extraction and consider some of the steps that can be taken to reduce our consumption.

Cleaning the ocean

Each year, billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean, and our ability to remove the waste at this point is undeniably inadequate. Fortunately, much research is taking place on this issue, including some studies using ceramic materials.

In “Magnetic oxides provide alternative to clean up oil spills,” we look at a study that used superparamagnetic magnetite nanoparticles to remove hydrocarbons from water. In “Carbon nanosprings break down marine microplastic pollution,” we look at a study that used manganese carbide nanoparticles encapsulated in helically nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes to break down microplastics through a mechanism called advanced oxidation processes.

Monitoring and restoring marine environments

Cleaning pollutants is just one part of protecting and conserving the world ocean. Monitoring and restoration are both parts of sustainable management as well.

In “Optical fibers for earthquake monitoring head undersea,” we explore the possibility of using the subsea fiber-optic cable network to monitor seismic quakes, which would greatly improve tsunami prediction. In “Clay tiles help restore coral reefs,” we consider the role clay tiles may have in restoring coral reefs.