THE BLOG
06/22/2011 11:53 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2011

Are You Blue? Ten Things You Can Do to Help Heal Our Oceans

"Shocking" new scientific reports of the self-destructive abuse of our blue planet's oceans are enough to make anyone feel blue. Not just those of us on the coasts or who've studied marine life for many years. Without healthy oceans -- the fertile wombs of our worlds -- we land dwellers are also lost. It's a simple equation: Oceans = life support.

Because we are so focused on our terrestrial life, the marine world is often our dumping ground, battlefield, or playground. In the 21st century we are at last turning our attention to the fact that our oceans are so degraded, we face "the next mass extinction" -- and it's man-made.

If we humans created this disaster, then we can take action to help stop it. We cannot leave saving our seas to scientists or governments. Nor do we have time for the denial of compassion fatigue or despair. The only antidote is engagement, education, and action. Here are ten simple steps that we can do every day to help heal our oceans.

1. Declare No Driving Days -- By reducing our own CO2 emissions, we decrease our carbon imprint and ease the pollution, warming, and acidification of our oceans. Locomote more! Take public transit. Save money and fuel. Support new green fuel technologies, cars, and daily kick the habit of fossil fuels.

2. Eat Less Fish -- Overfishing has devastated marine species from top to bottom. If you eat fish, then support sustainable fisheries and don't eat farm-raised fish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a handy shopping guide. And boycott goods from countries that still practice the primitive and brutal commerce of whaling.

3. Just Say No to Plastic -- Plastic bags, balloons, water bottles all end up in our water systems. Slow to degrade and often mistaken for prey by marine mammals, this plastic is choking our seas. There are continents of plastic afloat in our waters. Recycle responsibly; use stainless steal water bottles, cloth shopping bags, and glass instead of plastic.

4. No Dumping: Watch what you flush. No pharmaceuticals, cleaning products with bleach or phosphates, or kitty litter. Flushable kitty litter has been cited as a major cause of seal deaths from contamination and pollution. Use recyclable toilet paper, towels and while we're at it, let's plant more oxygen-rich trees.

5. Stop Run-Off: This is a major man-made problem that can be easily limited. Wash your car at a car wash that advertises "Clean Green" to stop grease, anti-freeze, oil, and heavy metals from draining into your water systems. Report any illegal dumping of paint or pollutants. Inland farming dumps agricultural run-off that creates "Dead Zones" -- vast areas of oxygen-starved seas that kills marine life.

6. Support Your Bodies of Water: Adopt a local wetlands, stream, river, bay, or ocean. Such grassroots organizations as American Rivers, People for Puget Sound, and Sierra Club all offer direct conservation activities from wetlands restoration to day-lighting streams to beach litter pick-up. Or start your own group of citizen naturalists.

7. Adopt Other Species: Whether it's Save the Manatee Club, Orca Network, Save Our Wild Salmon, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, or Seal Sitters there are many organizations working to protect marine life. Joining grassroots organizations not only educates us about marine life; it also expands our kinship system to include others. It's the basic tenet we teach our children: To share. Interspecies adoption works!

8. Commit Daily Acts of Climate Change: Instead of feeling helpless and overwhelmed by the Big Picture of global warming, educate yourself and your children about its causes and possible remedies. Search websites such as Greenpeace's Stop Climate Change.

Or Blue Marble's How to Help Stop Global Warming.

9. Support Marine Protected Areas: Like our far-sighted national parks and forests, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have proven that conservation of species and habitat actually works. The benefits of MPAs are clear: cleaner waters, more fish, healthy coral reefs, and a legacy for all next generations. See: http://www.mpa.gov/

10. Be Blue: We are all People of the Sea. Our species evolved from the primal oceans and it is our oceans that will determine our destiny and survival. After all, we're not just talking any more about other species' extinction -- but our own. See: Heal The Ocean.

In the remarkable book, THE WORLD WITHOUT US, author Alan Weisman notes that centuries ago, the seas were so abundant and healthy, our ships actually collided with whales, some fish like groupers were 800 pounds, and long-lived sea turtles were 1,000 pounds. Coral reefs shimmered with life. In our brief blip of geological time, humans have stripped the seas -- from overfishing to pollution to military sonars that deafen and destroy marine mammals.

Weisman imagines our "sea cradle" recovering perhaps only after our species disappears. If we take the long view of geology, natural selection may simply disappear our self-destructive, short-sighted species. And the seas will recover, with or without us.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were with our help? Our bodies, like our planet, are mostly made up of water. So whether you're land-locked, conservative or democrat, whatever your faith, young or old -- every last one of us literally lives by water.

Brenda Peterson is a National Geographic author. Her sixteen books include Living by Water, Build Me an Ark, and the recent memoir, I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named as among "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010." Peterson is the founder of Seal Sitters. For more: www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com and www.sealsitters.org