Essay 2: The High Seas, the Life Support System of Our Planet

Essay 2: The High Seas, the Life Support System of Our Planet

I am retaking an English course to strive for a higher grade for application to the radiology program at Southern Crescent Technical College. The following contains my argumentative essay for my ENGL 1101 class. The essay is regarding the Netflix documentary “The High Seas” episode of Our Planet.

Rockfish with deep-sea coral and a crinoid. Photo: NOAA Photo Library courtesy of Ed Bowlby, Photo Source: Wikipedia, License: CC0 1.0 Public Domain

More than two-thirds of the earth’s surface is the ocean. The nethermost areas of the sea are over ten kilometers deep, and the vastness of these depths establishes the seas as ninety-five percent of the space available for all life on earth. Ten times more species exist in the ocean than previously thought (Fothergill 00:17:45-00:21:07). People could easily assume that the vastness of the seas would indicate they would be impossible to damage, but people extend their destruction way beyond the nearby coastal waters. “The High Seas” episode of Our Planet demonstrates that the high seas are the life support system of earth and that they are vital to humanity.

Phytoplankton supplies half of the world’s oxygen. It also drives the weather and climate and plays a vital role in oceanic cloud formation. Moisture from the water condenses around particles made by the phytoplankton, and the globules combine to compose enormous clouds. These clouds reflect energy from the sun out into space, helping keep the earth cool. The clouds also carry freshwater around the world (Fothergill 00:15:42-00:17:18). According to Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, phytoplankton has “diminished by up to 40%… If this trend continues, it will starve the ocean as it is the food source for everything that lives” (Revolution 00:30:25-00:30:45). This trend would also lead to starving people of oxygen since they are such vast oxygen producers. People around the world would obtain less freshwater due to plankton’s role in the weather. The increasing lack of plankton could also contribute to global warming and higher atmospheric temperatures if oceanic cloud cover reflects less of the sun’s heat.

Like phytoplankton, deep-sea lophelia reefs die due to humanity. They create similar deep-water ecosystems as shallow-water reefs and also provide food and shelter to deep-sea fish and creatures. These reefs cover more surface area than shallow corals. Some are 40,000 years old and grow very slowly. Despite living at such great depths, they do not escape human destruction. Deep-sea fishing nets drag along the ocean floor and destroy the lophelia reefs. Humans destroyed half already. Due to their slow growth, lophelia reefs would take centuries to recover (Fothergill 00:24:47-00:29:13).

Fresh shark fins drying on the sidewalk in Hong Kong. Photo by: Nicholas Wang, Photo Source: Wikipedia, License: CC BY-SA 2.0

Dr. Katharina Fabricius and Charlie Veron, coral scientists, say we should watch the oceans to predict the earth’s future because “what the oceans do, the terrestrial world will follow” (Revolution 00:22:33-00:22:48). Since the industrial revolution, humanity has produced and released approximately one quadrillion pounds (1,000,000,000,000,000) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Revolution 00:31:40-00:31:55). Fossil fuel used by people converts into carbon dioxide. Then the oceans absorb it as an acid. Ocean acidification will create a hostile environment for most marine life and could lead to the disappearance of coral reefs within 25-50 years. In every mass extinction, coral reefs were the first ecosystems to be eradicated. Out of the five mass extinction events in history, most can be directly attributable to ocean acidification events (Revolution 00:22:54-00:26:19). Humanity cannot survive if we destroy the capacity of the oceans to regulate the atmosphere, to provide food, and to control the climate (Revolution 00:30:50-00:31:25).

Shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy. Photo by: Chee Hong, Photo Source: Wikipedia, License: CC BY 2.0

We not only destroy the physical oceanic environment, but we also devastate the entire marine ecosystem and food chain through overfishing. Humans eradicated ninety percent of all fish stocks, and predictions indicate they could eliminate the stocks by 2048. We discard more than forty billion pounds of dead fish every year (Revolution 00:12:40-00:14:13). The price of some catches encourages unsustainable and even illegal fishing practices. One hundred million sharks die annually due to shark fin harvesting for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy. Poachers and fishers often remove only the shark’s fins and wastefully return the remainder of the shark into the water to die. They can sell the fins for $400 per lb (Revolution 00:05:40-00:5:57). Bluefin tuna “can sell in Japan for over a million dollars” and are nearly extinct (Fothergill 00:36:39-00:37:01). Squid increasingly replace fish and are a sign of a severe imbalance in ocean life. The young proliferate, and with the decline of their predators and competitors, they overrun the seas. Predators adapt and change their diets by incorporating more squid because they are incredibly abundant (Fothergill 00:38:50-00:40:52).

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) ensnared near the mouth of the fish trap. Depth 25 meters. This tuna weighed 270 kilograms (approximately 600 pounds). Location: Favignana, Sicily, Italy. Photo: NOAA Photo Library courtesy of Danilo Cedrone, Photo Source: Wikipedia. License: CC0 1.0 Public Domain

If humanity can save the oceans, humanity can, in turn, save itself. Like other oceanic predators, people could change and adapt by eating less seafood. They could also eat more abundant types of seafood, like calamari (squid). Changing eating habits and making other lifestyle changes such as recycling could help combat the decline of the oceans. Most importantly, governments could cooperate to regulate carbon emissions and high seas better. Not even one percent of the oceans are under protection (Revolution 00:14:04-00:14:13). Whaling once caused blue whales to become nearly extinct. Low birth rates and slow growth rates did not permit them to recuperate naturally from whaling. Protection allowed their numbers to replenish (Fothergill 00:03:27-00:07:55). The example of the blue whales demonstrates how we can reverse the damage by humanity to the oceans through cooperation and regulation. Through education and awareness, people can know that “no civilization has ever survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support systems. Nor will ours” (Revolution 00:51:45-00:52:19). If global citizens are thoughtful of our marine ecosystem and conserve the marine resources, future generations can survive and enjoy the oceans.


Works Cited

“The High Seas.” Our Planet, created by Alastair Fothergill, season 1, episode 6, 2019. Netflix,

Revolution. Directed by Rob Stewart, Foundation Features, 2015.


Featured Image: Phytoplankton Bloom in the Barents Sea, Photo: NASA image courtesy Norman Kuring, NASA Ocean Color Group. Photo Source: Wikipedia, License: CC BY 2.0





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