Code Blue: Our Oceans in Crisis

08.11.23 By , , , , , and

In Australia, our love of the ocean is truly profound, we surf it, camp by it, we marvel at its incredible beauty from its many pristine sandy shores and we are proud of the unique and wondrous sea life that inhabits it. But all of this is at grave risk. 

Our oceans are in trouble. As our climate changes, driven by the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, our seas are transforming before our eyes. Marine heatwaves are surging, coral reefs are on the brink, ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate, currents are slowing and seas are rising. Put simply: the climate crisis is an ocean crisis.

The ocean is the beating heart of planet Earth, and the lifeblood for all humanity. It produces over half the oxygen we breathe. Its currents regulate our climate and weather. The marine life within it provides sustenance for billions. Our cultures, economies and very identity are tied to the sea. 

We have pushed this wondrous, life-giving system to the brink by burning coal, oil and gas. More than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the ocean. Parts of the ocean could reach a near-permanent heatwave state within decades. Our iconic Great Barrier Reef may soon face annual mass coral bleaching. Entire island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati could become uninhabitable this century as seas rise.

The ocean is a vital carbon sink, absorbing more than 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that humans emit by burning fossil fuels and clearing land. This has changed the chemical make-up of the entire ocean, making it more acidic. By absorbing excess heat, and carbon, the ocean has shielded us from the worst of climate change so far. But we are now seeing the consequences of its sacrifice. The climate crisis is no longer a far-off threat. The ocean is screaming a warning that cannot be ignored.

We must heed the call and act with urgency. We must show a commitment to protecting our precious ocean and all the life that depends on it, starting with the urgent phase out of coal, oil and gas this decade, restoring damaged ecosystems, expanding marine sanctuaries and supporting Indigenous stewardship. The solutions are clear. What is needed is for governments to understand and act with the urgency that is required to meet this mighty challenge.

Key findings

1. The health of the planet’s oceans, and human survival, are intrinsically linked. 

2. The world’s oceans are absorbing mind-boggling amounts of excess heat generated by human-induced global warming.

3. Abrupt and concerning changes to the ocean are now starting to outpace scientific predictions. Experts are deeply worried.

4. Marine heatwaves are becoming more severe and frequent, with devastating consequences for iconic coral reefs, kelp forests and other marine species. 

5. Coastal communities across Australia and the Pacific are all threatened by warming oceans and ocean acidification, from robbing us of our big ocean playground, to decimating entire communities. 

6. Urgent action is needed to protect our oceans and limit warming, starting with rapidly phasing out coal, oil and gas.