The 8th of June marked global oceans day which was firstly adopted by the United Nations back in 2008, celebrated with the mindset of raising awareness on the importance of the oceans[1]. Oceans represent 70% of earth composition – supporting lives (human and living organs) by providing sources of food, homes to biodiversity, producing more than half of global oxygen, and creating jobs for millions of workers in the oceans-based industries in which the number is predicted to grow to 40 millions by 2030[2]. However, throughout the years, the UN reported that around 90% of the large fishes devoured; additionally the ecosystem of coral reefs, which accounts for half a billion dollars for its net value, and is considered to be the home and foods of fishes and sea organism population, and the guard for global coastline from storm damage, is now 50% deteriorated[3] [4]. Therefore, to once again commemorate how important the oceans are for the lives of our people on earth, and how the livelihoods have impacted our oceans this year’s theme was determined to be “The Oceans: Life and Livelihood”.

Amidst global pandemic, we witness an increase of plastic pollution in oceans contributed by the single use masks, and other personal protection equipment that were introduced as the protection measure. It has been reported that in 2020, plastic pollution was estimated to comprise 1.56 billion face masks that constituted around 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of the former status quo[5]. What made it a concerning phenomenon is the fact that such huge plastic pollution proportions might take at minimum 450 years to dissolve, which consequently will deteriorate ecosystems, sea lives, and in a long run hinder the global economy, ocean-based industries, fisheries, and lives that depend on oceans[6].

Nonetheless, there are also some lights in the darkness brought by the pandemic. Although Covid-19 has yielded regression and adverse impacts on global economics, international relations, trade, developments, and other aspects, the pandemic opens a new gate to ocean preservation. Thanks to the global economic slowdown brought by disruption of supply-chain, contraction of international demands in the market, it has been reported by the United Nations Development Program that the level of sea and water pollution, overfishing, and marine ecosystem deterioration has noticeably decreased last year during the initial outbreak[7]. This resulted from the slurps down in international fisheries, international shipping, coastal tourism, coastal development, and natural resources extraction – oil and gas.

A study done by Shehhi, and Samad found that within just two months of pandemic and lockdown, the emission of carbon dioxide was found to have fallen by 7%[8]. This general improvisation was contributed by the plummet in observed emission in North Europe, South China, and Southeast USA[9]. In China alone, the emissions plunged by 123 tonnes which was equivalent to five percent, resulting in a drop of sea surface temperature by 0.5°C whereas in the North Indian Ocean the average cooling of sea surface temperature was at 5% of its normal temperature[10]. Since the ocean represents a shield to climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide emission, the figure presents good news to ocean preservations. This is based on the understanding that in exchange for being a buffer to global warming by taking in carbon dioxide emission, the ocean will have to take in the heat which will lead to the rise in sea level, generating ocean acidification, which destroys lives below the water and its ecosystem[11].

Looking into the figure of each sector that contributes to the progress is the international shipping, and ports. It was mentioned that although ports are not closed amidst the pandemic, but the pandemic disfigures international shipping drastically, which infers that to a certain extent emissions were reduced. Ports around the world did not go through any closure, but their activities were reduced due to the slump in global consumption which caused international shipping demand to drop. In March 2020, during the initial phase of the pandemic declaration, we witnessed a decline of five percent and ten percent for cargo container trade[12]. The number was noted by UNDP as the largest record for international trade[13]. By the middle of 2020, it dropped further eight percent based on the comparison between the 2019 and 2020 quarter database before recovering slowly in august[14]. It is important to stress that the shrinkage of traffic signifies the drop of gas emission in which at a normal circumstance it represented 2.5 percent of global emissions that generated into the problem of ocean acidification, contribute to global warming, deoxygenation, and more[15].

Other aspects are global tourism and natural resource exploration and extraction, which was highly constrained by lockdown, travel restrictions, and shrinking global demands. The UNDP report mentioned that with the pandemic, marine ecosystems remain clean, peaceful and quiet with minimal boating and diving activities together with less water pollution from nearby accommodations, resorts, and restaurants’ improper disposable wastes. A slowdown in coastal construction and other development may have near term benefits of reducing stress on coastal ecosystems but these are unlikely to be sustained once such development returns. For the oil and gas industries, activities also died down as the oil price dropped as well as the reduction of international shipping caused a cut down of oil and gas demand.

To conclude, we can see that despite the fact that global pandemics yield abundant negative effects on sectors around the world, there is certainly a positive impact that they have generated for the oceans. This resulted from the halts of major international economic activities including international trade and shipping, tourism, and natural resources extraction, which are all the main sources of ocean pollutants. Despite that, attention shall be given to drafting measures to curb the plastic pollution created by the single use of PPE amidst the pandemic. Oceans play vital roles in human lives as it provides oxygen to living organisms on earth; creates jobs for people; absorbs carbon dioxide; facilitates trade and more; therefore, it should be within human conscience and responsibilities to recognize its importance and raise awareness to protect oceans from deterioration.

 

[1]First Post. (2021, June 8). World Oceans Day 2021: Messages, quotes to share with family and friends. Retrieved from: https://www.firstpost.com/world/world-oceans-day-2021-messages-quotes-to-share-with-family-and-friends-9694711.html

[2]United Nations. (2021). The Oceans: Live and Livelihood. Retrieved from:https://www.un.org/en/observances/oceanss-day

[3]United Nations. (2021). The Oceans: Live and Livelihood. Retrieved from:https://www.un.org/en/observances/oceanss-day

[4]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: U.S. Department of Commerce. (2019, February 1). Coral reef ecosystems. Retrieved from:https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life/coral-reef-ecosystems

[5]Sharma, M. (2020, December 30). Covid-19 Hazard: 1.56 bn masks polluted oceans in 2020, claims study. Business Today. Retrieved from: https://www.businesstoday.in/coronavirus/covid-19-hazard-156-bn-masks-polluted-oceans-in-2020-claims-study/story/426450.html

[6]ibid.

[7]Hudson, A. (2020, June 8). The Ocean and Covid-19. United Nations Development Program. Retrieved from: https://www.undp.org/blogs/ocean-and-covid-19

[8]Shehhi, M. R. A., & Samad, Y. A. (2021, February 23). Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the oceans [Abstract]. Retrieved from:https://doi.org/10.1080/2150704X.2021.1880658.

[9]Shehhi, M. R. A., & Samad, Y. A. (2021, February 23). Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the oceans [Abstract]. Retrieved from:https://doi.org/10.1080/2150704X.2021.1880658.

[10]ibid.

[11]Simpkins, K. (2020, December 11). Impacts of Covid-19 emission reductions remain murky in the oceans. CU Boulder Today:University of Colorado Boulder. Retrieved from:https://www.colorado.edu/today/2020/12/10/impacts-covid-19-emissions-reduction-remain-murky-oceans

[12]Hudson, A. (2020, June 8). The Ocean and Covid-19. United Nations Development Program. Retrieved from: https://www.undp.org/blogs/ocean-and-covid-19

[13]ibid.

[14]UNTAD. (2019, September 09). Covid-19: Shipping data hints to some recovery in global trade. Retrieved from: unctad.org/news/covid-19-shipping-data-hints-some-recovery-global-trade

[15]Hudson, A. (2020, June 8). The Ocean and Covid-19. United Nations Development Program. Retrieved from: https://www.undp.org/blogs/ocean-and-covid-19

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