World Oceans Day has been celebrated every June 8 since 1992, when Canada proposed it at Earth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of healthy oceans in his message for the day:
Two out of every five people live relatively close to a shore, and three out of seven depend on marine and coastal resources to survive. Our oceans regulate the climate and process nutrients through natural cycles while providing a wide range of services, including natural resources, food and jobs that benefit billions of people. Given how critical oceans are to the health of our planet and the prosperity of people, they are an essential element in our emerging vision for sustainable development, including the new set of sustainable development goals now being prepared to guide the global fight against poverty for the next 15 years.
Indeed, it's hard to overestimate the importance of the world's oceans to life on Earth. "Phytoplankton in the ocean produce nearly half the oxygen we breathe," notes the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. "Take a breath. Thank the ocean."
As you take a breath and thank the ocean today, take a look at these beautiful images to celebrate World Oceans Day. And share your own ocean images by tweeting them to @AlterNet with the hashtag #WorldOceansDay!
1. A leatherback turtle hatchling stretches his legs.
Named for their unique leather-like shells composed of tough rubbery skin, leatherback turtles are endangered. Even though they are as ancient as the dinosaurs, their numbers are dwindling due to human activity. The greatest threats to their survival are commercial fishing (they are accidentally scooped up in fishing nets) and marine pollution (they mistake plastic bags and balloons floating in the water for jellyfish). According to Sea Turtle Conservancy, there are an estimated 34,000 nesting females remaining. The non-profit turtle conservation group Chelonia has launched a public petition urging President Obama to designate Playa Grande/El Unico Beach in Dorado, Puerto Rico as a natural reserve to help protect leatherback turtles. (image: Frontierofficial/Flickr)
2. A humpback whale breaches the surface amid several kayakers off the coast of Port St. Luis, California.
The humpback whale is an acrobat: known for breaching the water and slapping the water with its tail and pectoral fins. Because of this physical behavior that occurs at the water's surface, humpbacks are popular with whale watchers. They are also known for their complex song, which can last up to 20 minutes. Since 2005, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launched ten campaigns to save whales from whalers in the Southern Ocean. As a result of these efforts, not a single humpback whale was killed, even though they have been on the whalers' quota list. (image: Dawn Beattie/Flickr)
3. Jeff Rowley rides a massive wave in Hawaii
Jeff Rowley is an Australian extreme sports athlete who specializes in paddle-in surfing. This photo was taken on January 4, 2012, as he became the first Australian to paddle into a 50-foot-plus wave at Jaws Peahi, Hawaii. “It just picked me up perfectly, It felt like I was riding a magic carpet with my heart in my mouth," said Rowley. “Everything I have worked hard and trained for all my life helped me pull off a ride like this.” When he rode a wave of similar height at the Albatross reef in Victoria, Rowley, who travels the world looking for monster waves, he said it felt like "riding a five-story building at 80 kilometers an hour." (image: Minnie Vuong/Flickr)
4. Fishermen at sunset, Taimali, Taiwan
Taimali is a rural coastal village in southeast Taiwan known for its efforts to revitalize its traditional aboriginal culture, which includes supporting lifestyles that are supported completely by living off the land and ocean. Taimali Beach was chosen by the BBC as one of the 60 best places in the world to watch the sunrise of the new millennium on December 31, 1999. While swimming is off limits here due to the strong undertow and presence of hammerhead sharks, Taimali is a major fishing site, where local fishermen retract their nets twice a day. (image: billy1125/Flickr)
5. Dhows in Zanzibar
An archipelago comprised of two large islands and many small ones in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. In addition being a tourist destination known for its spice and raffia palm exports, Zanzibar also has a substantial fishing industry and also produces many dugout canoes. Often seen in Zanzibar's waters are dhows, ancient sailing vessels used primarily in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Boat expert Bob Holtzman, who maintains the blog Indigenous Boats, writes, "Dhow designs are often lovely, sometimes elegant … their hollow entries tend to merge beautifully along the waterlines into rather wide, square bilges, and there's an ineffable grace to the settee sail in its great variety of rigs." (Roman Boed/Flickr)
6. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,400 miles, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system. The world's biggest single structure made by living organism — billions of tiny coral polyps — the reef can be seen from outer space. Climate change and pollution continue to threaten this UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to a 2012 study by the National Academy of Science, since 1985, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals. The Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF-Australia have joined forces to launch a public campaign, Fight for the Reef, to protect this natural wonder from industrial developments such as the building of mega ports. (image: NASA/Flickr)
7. Clownfish peeking out from sea anemone
"Clownfish and sea anemones have a complex and mutually beneficial relationship," writes Alexis Dean of AskNature.org. "Clownfish live in and are protected by some species of sea anemone; without this protection, they cannot survive in the wild. Anemone tentacles sting and kill other species of fish, but the clownfish is protected from the anemone’s sting." (image: Joshua Nguyen/Flickr)
8. School of flame goatfish and a few others, at Gota Abu Ramada, Red Sea, Egypt
Goatfishes (a.k.a. red mullets) are a tropical fish found in the reefs of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and are a valuable food fish. They are called goatfish because, like goats, they have a wide-ranging diet. During the day, yellowfin goatfishes form large schools that often include bluestripe snappers. In these mixed situations, the goatfish change their color to match the snapper. Goatfishes ability to change color was valued by the ancient Romans, who served them live so that diners could witness the color changes that the fish underwent during death. Seneca writes that a goatfish, "even if it is perfectly fresh, is little esteemed until it is allowed to die before the eye of your guest. They are carried about enclosed in glass vessels, and their coloration is watched as they die, shifting as they struggle in the throes of death in varied shades and hues … There is nothing, you say, more beautiful than the colors of a dying [goatfish]; as it struggles and breathes forth its life, it is first red, and then gradually turns pale; and then as it hovers between life and death, it assumes an uncertain hue." (image: Derek Keats/Flickr)