07/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Day of Thanks for Our Oceans

There's something to celebrate next Monday on World Ocean Day, June 8.

Now, I don't want to downplay the threats our oceans face. They are significant and urgent. But the good news is that "the other 70 percent" of our planet is finally getting the attention it deserves - and not just one day a year.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently partnered with The Ocean Project and the National Aquarium to commission the largest national survey of environmental attitudes ever conducted, in which 22,000 individuals shared their views on ocean issues.

What we learned was sobering, but still encouraging.

As was true 10 years ago, Americans' knowledge about the state of the ocean is limited. They're far less worried about long-term ocean health than about the state of the economy today. While climate change is the No. 1 environmental issue of public concern, people are largely unaware of the connection between climate change, carbon pollution and the health of the ocean.

Nonetheless, Americans say they want to protect the health of the ocean and the environment. And -- in a significant shift from views expressed in a similar survey 10 years ago -- they now believe their individual actions can make a difference for the environment and the health of the ocean.

They're ready to act - but they're not sure what to do.

Importantly, the survey found that young people aged 12-17 care more about the ocean, know more about ocean issues, and are more willing to act on the ocean's behalf than adults. Teens and tweens influence the opinions of adults, who tend to view their children as better informed on environmental issues, according to the survey.

This presents a huge opportunity for the nation's aquariums, where millions of families annually are drawn to learn and explore. We've been meeting the challenge at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for some time -- notably through our Seafood Watch program, which helps consumers and businesses make seafood choices that protect the health of ocean ecosystems.

Still, we and our aquarium colleagues must work harder to raise awareness of the importance of healthy oceans to the future of all life.

As you celebrate World Ocean Day on June 8, spend the day at your local aquarium. Start using our Seafood Watch recommendations, and encourage others to do the same. Your choices will help drive change in how we fish and, in turn, help create a future with healthy oceans.

You can learn more by joining me and Alton Brown for a World Ocean Day webcast on Friday, June 5 (noon Pacific time). We'll be taking your questions, and talking more about what each of us can do to ensure our oceans get the attention they deserve.

After the webcast, I'll head to Washington, DC for Capitol Hill Ocean Week. It's a time when ocean experts and legislators gather to learn and make progress on policy solutions to the challenges our oceans face. Those of us who care about the oceans will be rallying support for more funding for NOAA, our national ocean agency, to support critical ocean science initiatives and innovative approaches to managing the growing uses of our oceans.

Progress on these issues is urgently needed. And progress requires public will. If we each put the ocean on our personal agenda of things we care about, we can change the policies and practices needed for ocean health. June 8 is a good day to start.