Energy, News, and Climate / Marine Preservation / Science / Science and Communication

The importance of #oceanoptimism

Last week I attended a public lecture featuring three great minds in ocean science: Sylvia Earle, Nancy Knowlton, and Amanda Leland.

UNC marine science students and the three speakers!

UNC marine science students and the three speakers!


It was an inspiring night for all of us, and meeting Sylvia Earle was a honor. For more on that see Serena’s post.

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All three speakers presented different different viewpoints on the state of the world, conservation, and ocean science. The overall theme of the night can be summed up in one sentence. We need more ocean optimism! Nancy Knowlton and colleagues have started a hasthtag (#oceanoptimism) aimed at providing more optimistic stories about the oceans.

Here’s why:

In the last week we have seen some pretty negative and downright terrifying articles published. Even though ocean life faces mass extinction and we have pushed beyond 4 of 9 planetary boundaries (for interesting perspective on this study check out this great article),  it is still important to stay optimistic. If we as scientists begin to think that our problems are insurmountable, then they public and policy makers will never do anything about them. We all know it is a terribly uphill battle, but it is important to keep fighting it. Someone needs to.

I’m here to share with you some of the reasons for being optimistic about the oceans today:

1.) Coral reefs are declining globally, mostly due to human influences. Global scale warming and acidification are constant threats, but so are local scale pressures such as overfishing and point-source pollution. The good news is that people can make changes to their daily lives to improve local reefs. Responsible fishing practices and pollution control can drastically improve reef health. When I was in Belize local fishermen were doing just that. Policies are in place to prohibit scuba divers from catching lobster and conch. Instead, local fishmen sail out to the reef and free dive for these organisms. This decreases catch, but helps sustain the fishery. Here are some more examples:

2.) There are tons of researchers (myself included) who care about protecting our oceans and resources, and we are making strides everyday. Sylvia Earle was quick to point out that since she started doing research 50+ years ago, we have learned more about the oceans than ever before. We have never understood things better than we do today, and with any luck, we will understand these systems better tomorrow. Check out some of the great work being done to preserve and understand reefs.


3.) We are raising awareness about overfished and endangered species and it is working (to some extent).

Cod bouncing back?

US fish stocks on the rise


4.) The world’s largest ocean reserve was declared last year (2014): Only 3% of the oceans are protected. Oceans make up >70% of the planet, so this is a small percentage of protected space. However, 3% is better than 0% and the numbers is only going to increase!

5.) Positive stories help! People don’t want to hear 100% doom and gloom. In climate and ocean science it is so easy to get bogged down in the negative. Instead, try mixing positive and negative. Tell a good narrative and relate to your audience. Help them understand that there is hope.

For more information, check out #oceanoptimism on twitter and while you are at it, share your own story! Together we can make a difference.





One thought on “The importance of #oceanoptimism

  1. Pingback: An ode to the ‘Shark Lady’ | UNder the C

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