For Kids

The Ocean and You

Do you know how important the marine environment is to your everyday life? For example, currents in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico here on Florida’s West Coast impact our lives by affecting our daily weather patterns. Ocean currents help determine if it rains.  Currents also control the movement of marine organisms and the cycling of important nutrients sea life needs to survive and flourish.

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the world’s most productive fisheries as it provides one out of every five fish caught in the United States and accounts for about 25% of the country’s revenue from commercial fishing or $900 million. Sport fishing is also a very popular pastime here on the West Coast of Florida with people taking 3.2 million annual recreational fishing trips. And, the Northern part of the Gulf of Mexico serves as one of the world’s only two known spawning grounds for the valuable and highly endangered Blue Fin Tuna.

But, the Ocean and Gulf of Mexico don’t just affect our lives. We also have an impact on our marine environment. How we live and use our environmental resources affects our oceans and all the sea life in it. Trash and other human waste products too often end up in our oceans with harmful effects on all kinds of sea creatures. Every major ocean basin in the world has areas where our trash is accumulating in alarming quantities. In some places in the Pacific Ocean, there is six times more accumulated trash than plankton, the small organisms that are the base of the marine food chain. Even worse, many of our trash items like plastic are mistaken as food sources by seabirds and turtles. When ingested, they severely weaken or kill the animal.

Carbon dioxide fumes from car emissions and power plants often located miles from the ocean are carried in the wind and settle in the seawater. This process increases the acidity or amount of acid in the ocean. This is a troubling circumstance because as sea water becomes more acidic, it decreases the amount of carbonate that is available for sea life with skeletons made of calcium carbonate that need it to survive and grow. This includes a broad range of sea creatures from plankton to corals, sea urchins, crustaceans and mollusks like clams and oysters.

Major man-made environmental mistakes like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 are especially troubling. The BP spill gushed continually for 86 days before it could be brought under control. By then, 5 million barrels or 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The effect on seabirds, dolphins, manatees and the coastline was immediate and painful for all to see. Unfortunately, it will take scientist years to completely assess the long-term damage to the Gulf and the  many creatures that live deep in the water column or on the sea floor.

What You Can Do

Become an Ocean Steward. Learn all you can about our marine environment and the things you can do to preserve it. Check out the START recommended websites in our Resources section to learn how to interact positively with the sea. Follow sound environmental practices in disposing your trash including plastics and recyclables to minimize their negative impact on the environment.

Ask your teacher to plan field trips to educational marine facilities like Mote Marine Aquarium, Save Our Seabirds and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium so you can learn firsthand how the ocean works and how you can help protect and preserve it.