As Dr. Grace Augustine in Avatar, I played a scientist committed to studying and calling attention to the interconnectedness and dependence of the alien Na’vi people on the planet Pandora’s natural wonders. In my life I draw inspiration from Grace. She was right in calling attention to the inextricable link between life and the environment, and to advocate for protecting the lifeforce -- the Hometree -- of the Na’vi tribe.
Back on planet Earth, we have our own lifeforce -- the oceans. Our oceans generate most of our oxygen, regulate our climate, and provide most of our population with sustenance. They are essential to all life on earth. Yet our oceans face a threat as dangerous as any Pandora faced: ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification is an urgent and profound threat to our planet’s ocean life and to the coastal communities that depend upon healthy oceans for food and economic development opportunities. Without healthy populations of ocean fish, or vibrant reefs, many coastal communities could lose their primary food source or their most promising job opportunity. We cannot prosper unless the ocean prospers, too.
Despite the seriousness of this threat, too few people know about this issue. That is why I teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) to create the movie ACID TEST: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification. It is critical that more people become aware of, and urge their lawmakers to address, ocean acidification.
Because our oceans are truly global -- they cover 70 percent of our planet’s surface -- it is imperative that the world work together to raise awareness and increase understanding of ocean acidification. For that reason, I am thrilled to learn that the U.S. announced at the Earth Summit in Brazil that we will join a number of other countries to fund an international partnership that supports ocean acidification monitoring. This significant multilateral commitment is essential to provide coastal nations with the information necessary to prepare for the impacts of ocean acidification on fisheries, corals, and marine food webs.
In addition, agreement was reached on the text that will emerge from the Earth Summit, which commits nations to collective action to address some of the biggest threats to our oceans, including ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution, and overfishing. Unfortunately, action to conserve biodiversity in oceans beyond national jurisdiction has been delayed.
It is my hope that our world leaders will come together at the Earth Summit this week and learn the lesson that Avatar teaches: our planet’s people cannot survive without the lifeforce given by our natural environment. The agreement to put international focus and support behind efforts to further understand ocean acidification -- which I hope will lead to action to address this critical threat to ocean life -- is a tremendous first step.
Image: Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef, via Acropora/Wikimedia