The Watch Forum had a message, should we need reminding: the ocean is dying. One of the experts speaking at the event, organised by Watches and Culture to encourage the watch industry to take action that promotes sustainability, Danielle McCaffrey is Chief Ocean Officer at Tēnaka, a start-up that tailor-makes CSR programmes aimed at restoring marine ecosystems. She summed up the situation thus: “We’re depleting resources by taking too much, too fast.” Seventy per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean yet we continue to fill it with plastic; a sad fact denounced by Melati Wijsen, who addressed the audience by video link.
The Bali-born activist campaigned relentlessly until the Indonesian island’s authorities banned plastic bags, plastic straws and some polystyrene foam. Wijsen, who features throughout Flore Vasseur’s documentary Bigger Than Us, didn’t mince her words: “Time is a luxury we don’t have. If pollution continues there will soon be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. We need to act now. Young people want to make this a world we can be proud of.”
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Not only does the ocean produce most of the oxygen without which there is no life on Earth. As Danielle McCaffrey explained, it absorbs one third of carbon emissions and nine tenths of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. This leads to ocean warming and, through expansion, rising sea levels. Increased temperature, along with plastic pollution, is one of the biggest threats the ocean must face and the cause of a recently discovered phenomenon: the water that evaporates from the ocean contains millions of microplastic particles that fall back to Earth as plastic rain. Biodiversity is first to suffer the consequences. For example, more than 70% of the shark population has been lost over the past ten years.
Julie Gautier is a freediver and underwater filmmaker intent on raising awareness about the plight of the ocean. She believes the way to achieve this is by provoking an emotional response. “We talk about limiting global warming to 1.5°C but what does it really mean?” she asked. “We’re constantly being told we need to clean up the ocean but how? I make short underwater films as a means to explain what can be done, poetically and using allegory. These are messages we need to get out there, with the one certainty that we must take action together.”
The good news is that marine ecosystems can regenerate, with the right measures and provided we stop filling the ocean with rubbish and draining its resources. “It is still possible to ‘repair’ the ocean,” said Danielle McCaffrey, “but there has to be a wake-up call. Right now we’re working with a number of luxury brands that have strong ties to the sea on programmes to restore coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass, and measuring their impact on biodiversity and carbon emissions. Brands can certainly help by taking action on the ground but also by funding scientific research that will expand our understanding of the ocean. There is no time to waste.”
In his book Océan et Climat, oceanographer and physicist Jacques Merle, director of research at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, asks this rhetorical question: what would Earth’s climate be without the ocean? The answer can be found on certain planets in the solar system that are similar to Earth. On Mars, for example, which is Earth’s twin except for the absence of a water system (despite the likely presence of ice at its poles), temperature swings leave little possibility for life. Knowing everything the ocean does for us, it’s time we started doing something for the ocean.