June 8th is World Oceans Day (originating from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and recognized by the United Nations since 2008).
In reflecting on what I can best share with you to honour Oceans Day and make clear the human dependence and impact on the oceans, I have decided that no one has made these points more solidly and eloquently than fellow Canadian, James Cameron. He is a lifelong activist for marine conservation who, among many other achievements, is the award-winning director of “Titanic” and “Avatar”.
Below, please read, and heed, the text from his 1998 acceptance speech for the SeaKeeper Award. Thirteen years on, the message is more important and urgent – than ever.
“Every living soul on earth, no matter how far inland they live or how much they may hate eating fish, is utterly dependent on the divine saltwater soup of the ocean. The ocean is the engine that drives our weather and moderates our climate. The phytoplankton in the seas create the majority of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic plants also form the bottom of a vast food chain from which we harvest a large portion of our food.
As our population increases, and arable land remains finite, we will look to the oceans more and more for our survival. Thus, our destiny as a species is interlocked with the destiny of the sea. If the seas become sick, we become sick. If they die, we die. Subconsciously we think the sea will always be there for us.
Right now, all over the world, coral reefs are threatened, and 40-mile-long drift nets cut huge, sterile swaths through the open ocean. Biologists estimate that over one hundred million undiscovered species remain to be identified in the oceans. We will kill half of these before, we have even had a chance to give them names.
Life began in the sea over three billion years ago. Our first upright walking ancestors appeared a mere four million years ago, and human civilization is less than ten thousand years old. If the natural history of life on earth could be viewed as a single Great Year, all of human recorded history inhabits the last couple of seconds of the last minute before midnight at the end of that year. And yet, in those last seconds, that eyeblink, we have multiplied exponentially, and our impact on the natural world has increased logarithmically.
It took the entire history of humankind to produce a global population of a billion people by the year 1800. By 1930, in just over a century, it had doubled to two billion. In another fifty years, it had doubled again to four. Now, at close to 6 billion, we are likely to double again in less than thirty years. picture it, 12 billion human souls, human mouths, crying out for food, struggling to survive, competing for resources, choking in a poisoned and depleted world, and all within the lifetime of our children.
We are alive now, and doing those works for which we will be remembered, at the most critical instant in the history of the Earth. Millions of years of natural evolution are focusing down to a few decades during which the game will be won or lost. And like it or not, we are the players in that game.
This is both a great honor, and a terrifying responsibility- As leaders, as decision-makers, as influencer’s of public opinion, we must do our best to preserve and restore the oceans. Humankind has, unwittingly, assumed the role of executioner of our own planet’s life force. But we can also be saviors, if we choose, and if we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary . . .
There is no one here who would not do the very best for their children – the best schools, the best food, the best doctors. Think of the ocean as the ultimate trust fund for your children, a living and life-giving fund. A healthy ocean is the best gift you can give them . . . l ask everyone. . . to assume a leadership role in guarding and restoring the oceans in all ways, and as a life philosophy.”