The sea begins here. Did you see them too, those white letters drawn with an old-fashioned stencil? On the pier next to a river that flows more than a hundred kilometers from the nearest shore of the North Sea? Or just next to the storm water drainage network in the street? Activists want to realize through this campaign that we don’t throw waste into the water. Because “all water, with or without waste, eventually flows into the sea.”
Many scholars who in the new eos Special Come down to earth, agree with them. Harmful substances travel from land to the ocean, and eventually to the fish that live there. An excess of nitrogen on land can cause the growth of toxic algae in the sea hundreds of kilometers away. Water does not respect national borders. For example, all islanders in the North Sea were in the same boat when sea levels rose in the past, no matter what country their plot of land might belong to.
“Earth has one ocean” is the first principle of ocean literacy. Does this mean that ray pulsations in the North Sea can cause a tidal wave in the Pacific Ocean? Maybe not. But snails from North America can spoil the oyster farming here—once they get here, of course.
Even more than the sea, the sea is made up of networks, from food chains to sand and sediment systems. Small changes can have dire consequences. For example, a lack of plankton can threaten a range of predatory fish, microscopic algae can make the waters of the North Sea clear in spring, and a wind farm can protect salmon.
The ocean is still largely unknown. This makes it difficult to identify all interactions. Marine researchers are well aware of this problem. They are more committed than ever to extensive and long-term monitoring, and they want to understand the systems. They can now rely on new technologies and methods such as robotics, sophisticated research vessels, and DNA coding.
Everything that is connected in and around the sea has an impact on its users. There is a lot. The North Sea is one of the most navigable regions on Earth. Place must be given to fisheries, energy and food production, and so must the cables of our man-made networks. Awareness is also growing among users: not next to each other, but with each other. And preferably not with space for plants and animals, but with an instrumental role of nature. “The best solutions are win-win solutions,” is the motto of the researcher in the Coastal Protection Project.
The ocean is not a province with unlimited resources. It is important to realize that. After all, for many of us, the sea is above all limitless pleasure. From swimming in cold water to more hours of sunshine per year, there are plenty of reasons to spend time by the sea. And although iodine treatments have become a myth, staying at the seaside benefits us. So let’s make sure that we can go endlessly into a healthy sea, getting to know its many networks better in order to better respect them.