World Oceans Day and the BP Oil Spill’s Silver Lining

It was almost two decades ago in 1992 that Canada proposed a World Oceans Day, which was unofficially celebrated until the United Nations approved the day just last year.

In 2009, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke about the importance of protecting the world’s oceans:

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development.

Ki-moon also stated that “human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas,” which is even more apparent now than it was a year ago. The BP oil spill may have occured just of the coast of the United States, but it has global implications.

So it’s appropriate, then, that this year’s theme is “Oceans of Life.” With that in mind, Ki-moon, UN members and visiting professors met at the United Nations Headquarters to discuss just that.

Through its World Oceans Day website, The Ocean Project invites us to participate in World Oceans Day in a number of ways. The site urges use to change our perspective — “to think about what the ocean means to them and what it has to offer all of us with hopes of conserving it for present and the future generations.”

How many of us are, in light of the recent spill, becoming all too aware of the spill’s ill-effects? If you watch the news at all (or follow as many water-related people on Twitter as we do), you can’t help but be disturbed by the photos of oil covered birds, of fish gone belly-up in black water. We wince a little bit when we hear that this is possibly the country’s worst environmental disaster, or when we think of the many, many years it will take to recover from it.

I would never suggest that the BP oil spill was a good thing. But if there is anything we can take away from it, it is that this tragedy has turned a nation’s eyes upon a resource that it might often take for granted. 

Remember World Oceans Day 2009? Me either. 

It’s a shame it took a disaster of this magnitude for many of us to realize the importance of the world’s oceans, but if we are to learn anything from it, we have to remember the theme not only of this World Oceans Day — “Oceans of Life,” but also of last year’s — “Our oceans, our responsibility.” 

Because you can’t have one without the other.