For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the sea. I’m told that when I was about 18 months old, my parents took me to the seaside in winter for a walk along the shore. As soon as I spotted the sea, I went running excitedly towards it with the intention of submersing myself in the waves as quickly as possible! I managed this quite admirably before my astounded mother had the chance to fish me out and hurry me home.
Before I could swim, I used to go into the sea with my dad and cling to his back as he swam along, while my mum waved worriedly from the shore – but I had no fear at all. Even a near drowning (when I got knocked off a lie-low accidently and had to be rescued promptly) failed to put me off.
I have to admit, that it’s the same today – I still utterly adore the sea and even now, if I venture down to the beach at any time of the year, I feel an inexplicable compulsion to dive right into the water! Although these days, I wisely limit this to the summertime only.
I’ve also learned that the sea, although beautiful and enchanting, must be respected. It is a far more powerful entity than a mere human being and as such it must be taken very seriously.
Amazingly, the sea covers 71% of the earth’s surface and yet we still know so little about it – so far, we have only managed to map 10% of the ocean floor. It’s vastness and depths may be hiding unknown mysteries that we are yet to discover and it’s very probable that we know more about outer space than about our own oceans.
One of my first oceanic themed questions was – why is the sea salty? Something we take so much for granted, but have we ever stopped to think why? The answer is that it’s a result of rain (which has been combined with carbon dioxide in the air to make it slightly acidic) washing away minerals from the rocks on land and into the sea. Also, volcanic and geothermic activity on the sea bed adds minerals to the sea. The most common of which is, of course, salt. Over time, the salt content has built up in the sea. Some seas are saltier than others, depending on evaporation and freshwater inflow. Think of the Dead Sea as an example of extreme saltiness, whereas the Baltic Sea is merely considered brackish.
Then there’s the colour – why is it blue (or not so blue in some places)? It’s all to do with the part of the light spectrum that the sea absorbs (red) leaving blue light behind. To me it also seems to reflect the sky – so a grey sky makes for a grey sea and (more preferably) a blue sea reflects a blue sky. The deeper the water, the darker the blue it is because this part of the light spectrum penetrates furthest into the depths. I remember a boat trip in Greece, where I saw a navy blue sea, topped with white foam – so much more enticing that a choppy grey old North Sea I thought!
There are 5 recognised oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Artic and Southern oceans – although strictly speaking, there is just one ocean that covers planet earth, it’s just we humans who like to divide it up into areas and give them names!
On the same subject, there are many seas: North, Baltic, Red, Black, Yellow, Tasmanian, Irish, Caribbean, Mediterranean to name but a fraction. The origin of the phrase of the 7 seas is unknown – but there are certainly far more than that!
The diversity of the oceans is incredible; from the frozen polar regions, where sea ice forms home to amazing creatures, such as polar bears, penguins and seals; right through to the tropical regions, where coral reefs form magical ecosystems that provide a home for a whole myriad of marine species.
Of course, the oceans play a vital part in our weather – water is evaporated from the ocean, forming clouds, from which rain falls back to earth again; oceans absorb heat from the sun and distribute it around the world and ocean currents drive weather systems and can create some very violent ones – think of cyclones / hurricanes!
Sadly, we can’t forget that more recent human activity is having a detrimental impact on the oceans. The melting of the polar ice is causing sea levels to rise and reduce salinity. Rising sea levels is impacting human communities across the world as the sea claims more land back.
As more carbon dioxide is absorbed into the water, the oceans become more acidic and this is having a devastating effect already on marine creatures – one of the starkest images of which is the bleaching of coral reefs.
Who can forget plastics? Although this substance has only been around just over 100 years, in that time it’s had a dreadful impact on our world, especially on our oceans. It’s estimated that 269,000 tonnes of plastic is in the oceans, with an unbelievable 8 million pieces of plastic finding their way into the water every, single day – it is truly shocking. Thankfully, steps are being taken to clean up some of the plastic in the oceans and to reduce our use of this substance and take more care of how we dispose of it.
There’s no denying that human activity and the resultant climate change is a massive problem affecting our oceans and we’re still a long way from resolving it.
We need to value our oceans. They are essential to not only our world, but our wellbeing. For example, Thalassotherapy (the word ‘sea’ in Greek is ‘Thalassa’) uses sea water and sea water products to aid health.
Then, there’s the many relaxing music lists to be found that will play you the sound of waves lapping the shore to help calm and restore you.
I’m sure there aren’t many people who don’t love a trip to the seaside – whether it be for a bracing stroll by the shore; or a traditional British bucket and spade, fish and chips and ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat day out; or even a more exotic holiday on a balmy, palm tree lined, tropical beach, with warm, azure water lapping a white sanded bay (sigh!)
Surely, even the most ardent aquaphobe could fail to be moved by the sight, smell and sound of the sea. It is our unique and constant companion and an essential and integral part of our very existence.
Despite the challenges it faces, the ocean surely remains an incredible, diverse, mysterious, enticing and beautiful part of our world. We must treasure it, take care of it and above all enjoy it!