The 8th of June is World Oceans Day. It was decreed so by the United Nations in 2008, over fifteen years after Canada first proposed the idea. And, the idea is fairly simply: We should all work together to preserve and rehabilitate oceanic ecosystems around the world. This year’s action is pushing the 30X30 initiative, calling for world leaders to commit to protect 30% of the planet’s lands and oceans by the year 2030.
In order to aid in the overall appreciation of the oceans, it’s worth noting that some of the most important contributions it makes, as well as stopping to admire some of the simply stunning statistics associated with the oceans.
1. The ocean is huge, and a huge part of the planet.
A little more than 70% of earth’s surface is covered by oceans. The largest ocean—the Pacific—covers 30% of the earth’s surface on its own. This expanse and depth accounts for roughly 97% of all the water on the planet, and the oceans account for about 99% of all the living space on the planet.
2. 94% of all life forms are aquatic.
The ocean contains nearly 50% of all species on the planet, but it accounts for about 50-80% of all life on earth (according to some, the number is more like 94%). Of course, included in these life forms are the blue whale, the largest animals on earth, ever, as well as phytoplankton, an often microscopic organism that produces around 50% of the world’s oxygen.
3. There are lakes, rivers, and even waterfalls in the ocean.
Because we think of the oceans as being a thing in and of themselves, we forget that they are more like continents…even bigger. Similar to land, there are rivers and lakes within oceans, and amazingly, the largest waterfall in the world is actually underwater: The Denmark Straight Cataract.
4. There is an estimated 20 million tons of gold in the ocean.
The seas have long been associated with sunken treasure and chests of gold, but legend has rarely spoken of how scientists have estimated there to be 20 million tons of gold in the ocean. That’s enough for every person on the planet to have over 5 kilos of gold. The majority of it is dissolved and inaccessible. Though the bottom does have larger pieces, it’s too expensive to mine them (thank goodness!).
5. More people have been to the moon than the deepest part of the ocean.
The Mariana Trench is 11km (35,802 feet) below the surface, so deep that Mt. Everest could sit in and not even see the light of day. The water pressure at that depth is said to be the equivalent of 50 jumbo jets pressing down on you. Consequently, more people have walked on the moon (12) than have visited the Marianna Trench (4). For that matter, while we are in space: We actually have better maps of Mars than we do of the oceans. Only about 5% has been explored.
6. 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the ocean
While we often give the forests credit for producing oxygen (a little under a third of it), the plants in the ocean are responsible for much more off it. (That’s not to say we don’t need the forests! They account for the most of the remaining production.) Phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton off oxygen via photosynthesis.
7. There are more historical artifacts in the ocean than all the world’s museums combined.
With an estimated three million shipwrecks and all the artifacts that go along with the RMS Titanic, Santa Maria (Christopher Columbus), and the Spanish Armada, National Geographic has estimated that there are more historical artifacts in the oceans than the entirety of the world’s history museums.
8. Earth’s longest mountain range is underwater, and the biggest canyon too boot.
We don’t think of oceans having landforms, but they do. In fact, the longest mountain range on earth is the Ocean Ridge (70,000km/40,000mi), not the Andes (7000km/4300mi). The Ocean Ridge stretches through every ocean, connected by boundaries between tectonic plates. And, the deepest canyon, from top to bottom, on the planet is not the Grand Canyon in Arizona but rather the Zhemchug Canyon in the Bering Strait. It’s about 750 meters grander.
9. 90% of volcanic activity happens in the ocean.
Of course, we know volcanoes happen in the sea. That’s how we’ve come to have island paradises like Hawaii and Fiji. That said, the amount of volcanic activity in the ocean far exceeds what happens on land. In the South Pacific, there is one area with over 1000 volcanoes in a space smaller than New York state.
10. Tsunamis can move at 500 mph.
With all of the plates shifting, forming mountain ranges and volcanic eruptions, it’s no wonder the oceans have some serious earthquakes. When those earthquakes quake, they create tsunamis that can move at speeds of 800kph/500mph in the deeper regions of the ocean. While they slow down as the depth decreases, they unfortunately start to pick up more water and get higher above sea level.
11. The world’s largest living structure is in the ocean.
The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia, is huge. It is nearly 350,000 square kilometres (over 133,000 square miles) and includes nearly 1000 islands. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It contains over 1600 species of fish, over 200 species of birds, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 14 species of sea snakes, over 130 species of sharks and rays, and 3000 individual reefs.
12. The ocean is really, really important to the climate.
The ocean has absorbed much of the excess heat and carbon dioxide on the planet, so when we are referring to global warming, by and large this has a lot to do with the ocean getting hotter, which makes the planet hotter. Of course, with this comes escalating sea levels, and that means mass destruction of human settlements. 200 million people live along coastlines that are less than 5 meters above sea level.