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Ocean Desertification

May 31, 2017

Imagine an ocean bare of marine life and polluted to the point where nothing can grow and thrive. If humanity continues down the current path of destruction and unsustainable practices, that will be the inevitable fate of the oceans of planet Earth. As oxygen levels plummet and a plethora of waste blanket the waters, the life-giving rays of the sun will no longer be able to penetrate to the depths that it once could. After contemplating these effects, it is clear to see that the oceans are in jeopardy. Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines desertification as “the process of becoming desert (as from land mismanagement or climate change)” (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Ocean desertification is a relatively new term that entails that same process occuring in the marine ecosystem as opposed to the terrestrial ecosystem. When the food chain begins to fall apart and biodiversity dwindels, the fish that served as a food source for humans will likely go extinct, and the health of humanity, and specifically brain health, will be at risk.

The future of humanity rests upon our ability to innovate solutions to this immediate crisis which may involve health insurance for the human brain in the form of seafood alternative supplements and conscientious aquaculture. Further research is required to help educate the public on the depths of the delinquency committed by companies attempting to maximize their profits at the expense of the Earth. Ocean desertification and the harm that it would cause to humans can be slowed, eliminated, or at the very least, mitigated, through education, innovative nutritional supplementation, and sustainable aquaculture. Through sidestepping the slow progress of altering or introducing regulatory laws to protect the ocean, we may take immediate action and preserve the most precious resource that we have which provides us the very oxygen that we breathe.

Experts from the The General Department of Sea and Islands described ocean desertification and six causes of it: climate change, ocean pollution via hazardous waste and the resulting acidification, ocean currents, destruction of marine ecosystems, the development of coastal urban areas, and air transportation pollution all contribute to the destruction of planet Earth's oceans (VietnamNet, 2016). All of those factors combine together to form synergistic and enhanced effects. Humans have undoubtedly affected the planet through unconscious living. Eating processed food created from resources that strip the planet dry and are shipped thousands of miles using countless gallons of petroleum is unsustainable. The fossil fuels that are burned in factories releases nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide into our atmosphere. When those compounds combine with the moisture in the air, they form sulfuric and nitric acid which then falls to the earth, either via rain or dry deposition. Those acids disrupt the biogeochemical cycles of the earth that regulates mineral uptake in plants and pH balance of the waters. One study examined the effects of acid rain on Masson pine seedlings and found that high levels of it altered the way that the plants operated. “In the high acid load treatment (pH 3.5), the ability of soil microbial groups to use carbohydrates was stimulated, but the utilization of amino acids was reduced, and there were no effects on the utilization of carboxylic acids” (Lin, 2014). Just altering a plant's ability to uptake amino acids has a significant effect on its ability to do what it needs to do which is performing photosynthesis and converting inorganic minerals into their organic, absorpbable form. The earth has numerous systems that work together just like the systems in our body. Disrupt one of the systems and we disrupt the others.

Climate change is undeniable at this point in our investigation into it. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, increases as a result of burning fossil fuels to run the machines that support electricity generation and modern convenience. CO2 levels have been on the rise for more than a century. With the current rate of CO2 levels increasing it has been estimated that by the year 2100 there will be a rise in temperature between 1.4 and 6.4 degrees Celcius (Weems, 2017). As CO2 levels rise in the earth's atmosphere they affect the pH, or acid-alkaline balance, of the ocean. “Most carbon dioxide remains in the air, but as much as 25 percent is absorbed by the world's oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” (NOAA). Once in the water column, carbon dioxide (CO2) reacts with water (H2O) to yield carbonic acid, which releases hydrogen ions (H^), effectively increasing acidity” (Johnson, 2014). When the acidity of the ocean is altered, species begin to die as the conditions that they have been evolving in for generations becomes radically altered. As species die, both plant and animal, that creates a enormous cascade of negative effects on the ecosystem. When fish go extinct often times that means that the humans living around those fish lose a source of food, and perhaps their mental health due to a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids which make up 15-20% of the brain.

Hazardous waste being introduced to the ocean is another huge issue because it introduces carcinogenic chemicals to the water that cause genetic mutations. When we combine that with nuclear reactor meltdowns such as what happened with Fukushima, it is easy to see how that would cause species extinction and a change in water chemistry. In the first part of 2011, a strong tsunami and earthquake occurred off the coast of northeastern Japan which destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant. There was a resulting fallout of radiation in the air that blanketed the area surrounding it, the ocean included. Radioactive cesium 134, 137 and total cesium count accumulates in muscle tissues, causes cell death and can even cause a change in behavior. When humans eat the muscle tissuse of fish that have been exposed to radioactive cesium, they accumulate those radioactive particles in their tissues. One study examined radioactive cesium accumulation in 14 freshwater fish from 44 sites around Fukushima. “Although each radiocesium isotope concentration decreased gradually, there were still detectable amounts in freshwater fish in Fukushima prefecture that exceeded 100 Bq kg-1 (i.e. the Japanese safety limit) of 134Cs and 137Cs even three years after the F1NPP accident” (Arai, 2014). Radioactive meltdowns alone, not accounting for the countless petroleum spills that have occurred, has a dramatic effect on the animals and plants in the ocean, and consequently, the humans consuming the fish in those areas.

With crude oil, the total polyaromatic hydrocarbons and total polychlorinated biphenyls are what harm sealife and their offspring. These accumulate in fish not only from catastrophic oil spills, but also daily from car exhaust and stormwater runoff. The major cities of the world are toxic not only for the people living there but for the surrounding animals and plants as well. Polyarmoatic hydrocarbons (PAH) encompasses a family of hundreds of chemicals. One single carcinogen called benzo[α] pyrene only makes up 0.02% of crude oil, yet 60% of the published papers on PAH toxicity is on that insignificant compound (Incardona, 2011). Pyrene can cause edema, neuronal death, anemia, liver and brain damage. However, there are hundreds of chemicals in crude oil that are even more toxic that can cause cardiovascular dysfunction and cell mutations at low exposure levels. When the chemicals kill the fish and other oceanlife, the die-off alone can cause a spike of ammonia which can lower the pH of the water and cause ocean acidification.

Changing ocean currents are another cause for ocean desertification and are much more complex than it appears. The oceans cover large distances and are multi-dimensional. The warm water moves at the surface and the deeper, colder water moves in the opposite direction. Essentially there are rotating belts in our oceans that interconnect and transfer mass and heat throughout the planet's seas. The temperature of our planet is regulated largely by the ocean. Water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane compose the greenhouse gasses. CO2 is used by chlorophyll on land and in the ocean (in the form of phytoplankton) turned into oxygen (Nigmatulin, 2012). If the ocean's cannot keep up with the rate of CO2 increase, then the more CO2 will build up in our atmosphere and warm the globe. The increase in temperature affects the temperature of the water which affects the ocean currents which then every organism on the planet directly and indirectly.

The development of coastal areas contributes to ocean desertification through the enormous amount of synthetic chemicals that end up in run-off that makes its way into the ocean. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are of primary concern as they are one of the many harmful chemicals found in plastic. One study examined PCB concentrations in fish in the Sana River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They found that “high fish consumption rate coupled with mean level of contamination yield unacceptable lifelong cancer risk in fishermen, irrespective of the fish species consumed” (Djedjibegovic, 2015). The primary concern with PCBs is an increase in cancer risk, both in fish and the humans that eat them. As PCBs accumulate in fish it increases the risk of extinction. While plasticizers and their associated toxic compounds are introduced to the oceans via the land, pollutants are also being introduced to the ocean via the air.

The two main sources of air pollutants to the ocean are from air currents carrying smog across the waters from industrialized countries, and the other is airplanes frequently flying over the waters. One study published by Science journal examined how far air pollution can travel in South and Southeast Asia. The researchers were surprised to discover that during the dry monsoon season, the pollutants blanketed the entire Indian ocean as a result of fossil fuel and biomass burning (Lelieveld, 2001). Burning fossil fuels or biomass creates many toxic products including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. Those toxins descend to the earth and pollute the soil and water of the planet. When man-made pollution reaches the water, it can change the pH of acid-alkaline balance which can cause a domino effect of flora and fauna extinction.

There are numerous factors that intersect and work together to harm the health of our oceans and consequently human health. Simultaneously, there are solutions that intersect and work together to support the health of all. Seafood alternative supplements, sustainable aquaculture and education efforts are all solutions to the problems that we face on the planet today. Alternatives to fish in the form of nutritional algae supplements are available. Organizations around the world are creating aquaculture farms, similar to agricultural farms, where the fish are fed high quality food and somewhat protected from pollution. Organizations are sprouting up whose mission it is to educate the masses about the harsh reality of the situation we face today.

The primary concern of the ocean desertification should be with the subject of nutrition. Fish have been a part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years as we evolved and many scientists believe that our coastal diets is what grew our brain. Two-thirds of the human brain is fat and one-third of that is made of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (Joanne, 2011). Sufficient levels of DHA in the brain have been shown to prevent Alzheimer's and other inflammatory neurodegenerative diseases (Thomas, 2015). When humans lower their seafood consumption due to ocean desertification or due to concern for heavy metals, radiation and plasticizers, brain degradation and a breakdown of mental abilities results. Humans will not be able to innovate solutions to take back their power from profit-hungry corporations pillaging and polluting the oceans if the brain doesn't function properly.

Our capacity to think and install new and updraded software programs, or belief systems, is completely limited by our hardware, the physiological integrity of our brain. The human brain can be either harmed or supported through nutrition from the ocean. Of upmost concern is heavy metal concentrations in fish, namely mercury. One study conducted by the Ain Shams University in Egypt showed “a significant higher hair mercury level among autistic group compared with the age and sex matched healthy control group” (El-baz, 2010). Another study examined other metals and concluded: “the toxic metals cadmium, lead, mercury, and aluminum may interact metabolically with nutritionally essential metals” (Blaurock-Busch, 2012). The fossil fuels and biomass burning that pollutes the oceans contains heavy metals in significant quantities. Those heavy metals then end up in the fish, which then end up in the humans that eat those fish. While chelating agents such as cracked-cell chlorella algae tablets are available, most of the public do not utilize them.

The other aspect of nutrition as it relates to ocean desertification is with the cutting back of fish consumption. As fish populations decrease, so does human brain function. The fatty-acid present in seafood is absolutely required for proper nervous system, heart, eye and brain function. Everyone receives a large dose of it after they're born. DHA is present in high quantities in breast milk of mammals and is required for proper visual and neural development (Farquharson, 1992). One study measured cognitive, behavioral and developmental outcomes in children and found that the benefits of omega-3 consumption outweighed the negatives from seafood contamination such as heavy metals (Hibbeln, 2007). That proves the importance of omega-3 DHA in brain development and the future of health for the human species. There are many omega-3 DHA available in health food stores, mostly in the form of fish oil but also krill, or even more sustainable, algae. One study proved that high dose DHA supplemention from algae oil balanced high triglyceride levels and is beneficial for type two diabetics (Doughman, 2013). The fact that algae oil is available to purchase at a reasonable price and bioavailable to the human organism should provide a sigh of relief to those aware of the coming shortage or extreme price increase of seafood.

Sustainable and conscientious aquaculture is another solution to ocean desertification that is being implementing worldwide. In 2012, almost 45% of the world's fish supply was sourced from aquaculture farms (Jones, 2015). With the world population projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, it is crucial that we develop new methods of harvesting fish from the oceans, or, as many people recommend, turn to vegetarian diets. “Aquaculture refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean” (What is Aquaculture, 2011). By having more control over the process, we can ensure that the fish we eat are not fed genetically modified organisms or exposed to high amounts of radiation or environmental toxins. Much of the fish that people eat in sushi restaurants is very low quality and sourced from corporations whose primary concern is profit and not environmental or human health.

Education is arguably the most powerful of the three solutions because seeds that are planted in the minds of boys and girls sprout over time and affect them whether they're conscious of it or not. If the contents of this paper could be made into a puppet show or animated short film, it would reach the children, an audience whose mind is much more maleable and hearts lighter. As humans age they tend to lose touch with their emotions as emotional traumas become stacked on top of each other and buried deeper instead of being moved through and processed. Humanitys lack of care for the ocean is a result of people not being in touch with their feelings. When we don't feel our emotions we don't feel the environment around us. The result is depression, anxiety, obesity and an inability to intimately connect with others.

Seventy to eighty percent of the oxygen on the planet is produced from algae and cyanobacteria in the ocean. The health of human beings is intimately tied to the health of the oceans through the air that we breathe but also with the nutrients that build our brain and make it possible to think complex thoughts. Ocean desertification and the health of our oceans determines the health of every person on the planet.


Arai, T. (2014). Radioactive cesium accumulation in freshwater fishes after the Fukushima nuclear accident. Springerplus, 3(1), 1. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-479
Blaurock-Busch, E., Amin, O. R., Dessoki, H. H., & Rabah, T. (2012). Toxic Metals and Essential Elements in Hair and Severity of Symptoms among Children with Autism. Maedica - A Journal Of Clinical Medicine, 7(1), 38-48.

Djedjibegovic, J., Marjanovic, A., Burnic, S., Omeragic, E., Dobraca, A., Caklovica, F., & Sober, M. (2015). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fish from the Sana River (Bosnia and Herzegovina): A preliminary study on the health risk in sport fishermen. Journal Of Environmental Science & Health, Part B -- Pesticides, Food Contaminants, & Agricultural Wastes, 50(9), 638-644. doi:10.1080/03601234.2015.1038956

Doughman, S. D., Ryan, A. S., Krupanidhi, S., Sanjeevi, C. B., & Mohan, V. (2013). High DHA dosage from algae oil improves postprandial hypertriglyceridemia and is safe for type-2 diabetics. International Journal of Diabetes in Developing Countries, 33(2), 75-82. doi:10.1007/s13410-013-0125-3

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