World Ocean Day

We are celebrating World Ocean Day, a date designated by the United Nations to recognize our relationship with the ocean through so many different ways of connection. The official day is June 8, and around the world, through the World Ocean Network, The Ocean Project, and many other associations with ocean interests, events will take place to highlight the value of ocean resources. There will be maritime festivals and beach clean-ups, school projects and environmental presentations the world over – in Africa and Asia, Europe and the Americas. What was once a bright idea is now an international event that for one brief moment focuses some part of ephemeral world interest on the ocean and its benefit for all mankind.
Of course, every day is ocean day. And we can claim that with the authority of the headlines that every day point to an ocean issue of import:  the catastrophic disaster of a failed oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, incidents of piracy and attack in Asian waters, the decline of fisheries across the world economy, and growing evidence of the negative impact of climate change on the ocean and its capacity for supporting all aspects of human survival.
What is Ocean Day meant to do? If all those concerned with ocean issues were to shout at once, there would be a compelling noise, enough to let us know that others around the world also care, enough to give us confidence that our whole is greater by the sum of our individual voices, and perhaps enough to penetrate the consciousness of a political structure that for the most part ignores ocean issues until it is too late.
Recently, around the climate issue,, a small organization with a big climate agenda, used the Internet to mobilize what has been characterized as the largest public expression of environmental concern in history. Literally thousands of organizations, encompassing millions of people, gathered round one issue and one response on one day. On that day as well, an estimated 500,000 marched through the streets of Copenhagen in a comparable expression on the same issue, a manifestation intended to influence the many national leaders and policy makers who were gathered there to conclude a climate treaty.
That effort failed. The thousands and millions were not enough.  What, then, does it take for the political will of the people coalesced around a single issue to be heard and accommodated? The analogy that occurs of course is the ocean itself, believed to be infinite in its capacity to dissolve the toxins, absorb the oil, sequester the CO2, cleanse the waste, circulate the protein and fresh water, heal itself along with the poisons of others.  Cleaning the beaches is a reminder of what the ocean cannot assimilate – the poly nets and fishing lines, plastic bags and containers, and, as in today’s news, the congealed residue of too much oil spilled, the dead fish and birds, and the destroyed lives of many who make their living from the sea, "environmental refugees" in the most developed nation on earth. That detritus is ample evidence that the ocean has reached its limits and that, if we continue to despoil it, we risk a vast, terrible, foreseeable, irretrievable loss.
When we stand by the sea, when we imagine it in our minds, we perceive Nature in the reality of its movement, shifting light, and sense of life. When we study the ocean, we understand its contribution to our health and well being through water, food, energy, and economic and cultural connection. Why would we put such a thing at risk? Why, deliberately, through acts of commission and omission, would we allow such a thing to be compromised, poisoned, and killed? Surely, if on Ocean Day we can come to the realization that such an act is truly self-destructive, we can then use every other day to spread the word, to act in some overt way, and to otherwise express the will of one, becoming thousands, becoming millions, who demand that the ocean be returned from scarcity to abundance, from conflict to accommodation, from despoliation to sustainability.
The ocean will serve us well, if only, worldwide, we demand to serve it better.
Peter Neill is Director of the World Ocean Observatory (, an internet-based place of exchange for ocean information and educational service.