Saving our Marine Life is Everyone’s Responsibility

By Nur Khairunnisa Binti Ariffin

This article contends that life below water, namely marine life, appears to be under threat due to oil spills, global warming, overfishing, plastic pollution, noise pollution, and ocean dumping. A significant proportion of these is due to human mismanagement. The rise in human mismanagement activities has had a tremendous effect on our country. Research has discovered that the destruction of marine life has resulted in invasive species, ocean pollution, ocean acidification, and ocean warming. These have had an influence on marine ecosystems and food webs and may have unexpected implications on our biodiversity and the survival of marine life forms.

Invasive species, ocean pollution, ocean acidification, and ocean warming all prove to be detrimental to marine life. A substantial proportion of these is the consequence of human negligence. The increase in non-eco-friendly fishing practices has had a significant impact on marine life. Oil spills, global warming, overfishing, plastic pollution, noise pollution, and ocean dumping have all been addressed at national and local levels by government authorities and non-governmental organizations for their detrimental effects. Despite this, the seas continue to face several risks in the contemporary era, with thousands of marine creatures dying and others becoming extinct as a result of irresponsible parties.

Marine life concerns are deeply connected to Goal 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14: Life below water). SDG 14 aims to protect and sustainably utilize the ocean, sea, and marine resources. Its objectives include, among others, preventing and reducing all types of marine pollution, minimizing, and addressing the consequences of ocean acidification, and regulating fisheries. SDG 14 is essential since rain, drinking water, the temperature, coasts, some foods, and oxygen in the air all originate and are interdependent on the sea. The sea also supplies essential natural resources such as food, medicine, and biofuels. The seas and oceans enable and contribute to waste and pollution disposal, and their coastal ecosystems act as good buffers for slowing down storm damage.

Healthy seas and oceans will be essential in responding to and minimizing the consequences of climate change, but marine conservation zones also helps to alleviate poverty by increasing fishing activities for people to earn their income. This effort raises people’s incomes. Despite the oceans’ critical significance, reckless exploitation over decades has resulted in an alarming amount of degradation. Current attempts to conserve marine habitats and small-scale fishing are merely a band-aid answer to an immediate need. However, the significant slowdown in human activity caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, although contributing to the catastrophe (at the economic level), has provided a chance to ocean recovery.

The ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink. It absorbs 23% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions produced by people, thus helping to alleviate the effects of climate change. The sea’s relatively high contribution, however, is not without its drawbacks: the carbon dioxide absorbed causes the seawater to grow more acidic. Many marine species, especially coral reefs, are threatened by this acidification. Acidity eventually disturbs the marine food chain and has a detrimental impact on ecosystems such as fisheries, agriculture, coastal protection, transportation, and tourism. According to SDG Report 2020, ocean acidification has resulted in a 10-30% rise in pH fluctuation over the previous five years. A significant rise is anticipated by the end of the century, from 100% acidity to 150%, affecting half of all marine life.

We must protect marine conservation zones in order to ensure the seas’ long-term growth. These regions safeguard biodiversity by protecting endangered species and habitats. Over 17% of the waterways under national control were designated as protected areas in December 2019 (Having more than doubled since 2010). Furthermore, governments have reduced illegal fishing through a legally binding international agreement. However, more specific action is required since unreported and uncontrolled fishing continues to jeopardize the social, economic, and global sustainability of fisheries across the world. To reverse these trends, immediate global action is required. Therefore, the United Nations (UN) designated underwater life preservation in the form of SDG 14 of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that were ratified in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda is important to address. (SDG 14: Life below Water – Iberdrola, 2021)

We need to gain a better understanding on the issue of our country’s inexorable destruction of marine life through secondary exploratory research.

Malaysia is subdivided into Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and East Malaysia (East Malaysia), having a total coastline of 4,800 kilometers. The country boasts one of the world’s largest continental shelf regions and is home to the world’s greatest diversity of marine life species. Hence, it is critical to preserve and safeguard marine biological diversity. As a result, the quality of Malaysia’s seawater water is critical to the protection of marine resources. Any source of contamination would inevitably pose a danger to these resources. 

Over the years, Malaysia’s marine environment continues to face serious pressure particularly due to pollution. Pollution from land-based sources, mainly as a consequence of urbanization and industrialization along in the coastal areas of Malaysia, has been identified as the major contributor to marine pollution. Another source of marine pollution is vessel-based.

There is a high volume of commerce that uses the Straits of Malacca, hence, it is particularly vulnerable to vessel-based marine pollutants such as oil and grease. The top major activities contributing to the oil and grease in the marine water are vessel discharges such as tank cleaning, deballasting, bilging, and bunkering. With the rise of global trade, the amount of traffic has predicted to rapidly expand, increasing the danger of vessel accidents and maritime pollution. 

Oil is hazardous to marine life by nature. When oil spills reach the beach, they interact with sediments, plants, wildlife, and human habitats, resulting in erosion and pollution. Oil spills can linger in the soil and marine environment for years, affecting marine biodiversity in the long run. To maintain the sustainability of marine biodiversity, Malaysia must address the harms caused by land-based and vessel-based pollution (Maizatun binti Mustafa & Mariani Ariffin, 2011).

As highlighted, land-based pollution contributes significantly to the contamination of Malaysia’s maritime environment. Industrial wastes, agricultural wastes, home sewage, and siltation are amongst them. The Environmental Quality Act 1974 is Malaysia’s major legislation for controlling marine pollution from land-based sources. This Act is the most detailed major legislation addressing environmental protection and pollution management, including maritime pollution (Mustafa & Ariffin, n.d.).

The second major hazard to the ocean is plastic waste. More than eight million tons of plastic garbage are poured into the ocean every year, which is worrying. Straws, lids, coffee cups, food packages, and soda bottles are all made of single-use plastic. The fact is that the ocean will become unsuitable for marine life, and instead of being an attractive destination, it will become a rubbish dump. Measures have been taken in which Malaysian businesses have ceased distributing plastic straws in favor of metal ones.

Acidification impacts the reproductive process of marine creatures and is caused by dissolved carbon dioxide in the water. Calcium carbonate, on the other hand, is required by marine animals to create their skeletons and shells; but, with the carbonic acid present (and rising), the extremely important calcium carbonate ingredient will continue to be depleted. The loss in coral skeleton density will continue, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, particularly in the Coral Triangle, which includes Malaysia, Timor Leste, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea.

Another serious concern is overfishing, which has resulted in the continuous depletion of fish populations. Small boats and rods, have caused tuna and herring, to decline in number. The problem persists, with fishing reaching new depths. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 90 percent of the world’s wild fish supplies are either completely fished or overexploited. Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry, has recommended enforcing a seasonal fishing restriction in Sabah to combat overfishing. Consequently, Sabah’s fishing sector will become more sustainable (Tan, 2020).

Before the situation worsens and has a significant influence on marine ecology, numerous approaches, and technologies to clean up the ocean have been established with a global reach. To preserve the condition of the ocean, measures must be taken to clean the water bodies of excessive marine garbage. 

Aside from that, we need to use as little fertilizer as possible in our gardens. Fertilizers (including manure) enrich the soil with nutrients that are transported downstream when it rains. Extra nutrients can generate toxic algal blooms thus disrupting the natural equilibrium of the water. Plants that are appropriate to local natural circumstances should be grown. They will grow more robustly if fewer chemicals are used.

Next, look for pesticide-free fruits and vegetables (and avoid spraying them on your plants in your own garden). Toxins in pesticides can leach into the water and kill marine life. Look for food that is in season and farmed near to where you live. A lot of energy is lost when crops are transported from afar or grown in greenhouses at the incorrect time of year. In addition, use non-toxic cleaning solutions and low-phosphate detergents at home. Simple items like vinegar, baking soda, or lemon juice are useful as substitute cleaning agents (Smithsonian Ocean Team, 2018).

A healthy ocean is fundamental for balancing the marine ecosystem by providing most of the world’s oxygen and managing weather patterns and temperature. Based on the findings, it has been determined that the ocean has a problem with marine trash, particularly plastic garbage. Human actions have been shown to have an impact on marine ecology, and precautions must be made to avoid the extinction of marine species. Individuals must be made aware of the consequences of such fishing activities, and laws and regulations must be created and enforced to ensure that people employ proper fishing techniques. The only way to avoid global warming is to employ renewable resources, educate people, and save energy. By preventing global warming, we are preventing the increase in sea levels and the potential extinction of marine species.***

(Nur Khairunnisa Binti Ariffin is a student from Kulliyyah of Economic and Management Sciences (KENMS). The article is part of the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ course assessment. The views expressed here are those of the writer/author and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday,)


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