Imagine this: Our oceans housing large whales, infinite in number, almost impossible to count. Sea turtles covering the water as far as the eye can see. Fish and other aquatic life, so abundant and healthy in rivers, streams and lakes all over the world, all one has to do is cast a net into the water and they fill to the brim. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
The thing is, this is the way it used to be. In his recent New York Times essay, “To Really Understand the Ocean, We Need to Go Back in Time,” Dr. John Waldman , an aquatic conservation biologist at Queens College, gives various accounts of aquatic life described above as recently as the end of the 19th century. It’s an account that sharply differs from ocean life today.
What happened, how did we get to where we are now and what do we do about it?
What happened was humankind. What we did was overpopulate, overfish, pollute, cause climate change, ocean acidification, habitat alteration, coastal erosion and introduce invasive species into aquatic habitats all over the world.
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In his essay, Waldman discusses not only what created changes in aquatic life, but also what can be done about it. He emphasizes that current ecological practices may not be taking into account the realities of data collected from biological wealth, health and productivity cycles of the past. This information about how healthy ecologies functioned in the past may influence solutions that modern technology is currently trying to create. This is a key theme that we keep coming back to at Terra, the place where modern innovation meets ancient knowledge.
Each year in his classroom, Dr. Waldman challenges his students to apply the information they learn about aquatic ecosystems from the past, to predict and change those same ecosystems in the present and future. On the final day of class, he asks his students, “Will the condition of the oceans be better or worse in 2050?” Will we continue to degrade our natural water systems or reverse the trends stated above.
The answer to those questions may predict the fate and survival of humans on our planet.