When it comes to oceans and the marine environment, I think it is safe to say there is just not enough known about what really goes down there! There are a few misconceptions that need to be unlearnt and lot of knowledge to be gained in this field.
Starting with the very basics- Sharks! A word capable of instilling fear in people who have not even had the privilege to have an encounter with them. Yes, I use the term privilege because sharks are magnificent and to be honest, adorable beings. Sharks communicate through body language, some common communications involve zigzag swimming, head shaking, hunched backs and head butts! Now is that not cute?
Did you know lightning strikes are more deadly than shark attacks? Despite what ‘Jaws’ would have you believe, it is seriously unlikely you will be attacked by sharks. Sharks like any other wildlife animal do not have human blood and flesh as a part of their diet (surprise!), unless they’ve been turned into man-eaters which can happen due to various reasons like loss of habitat leading to lack of natural preys to feed on. Shark attacks have been attributed to the high dispersal of their preys and the fact that humans unfortunately seem to resemble their preys.
Sharks being the apex predators are the key to a healthy ocean ecosystem, needless to say their absence can lead to profound impacts on all other animals in the food web causing complete unbalance.
With an increase in anthropogenic activities over the years and an exponential rise in the demand for shark meat, this along with the fact that these species have slow growth and low fecundity rates, a quarter of sharks are threatened with extinction today according to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
It’s high time we embrace these majestic organisms with love as they are as harmless as any apex predator can be!
The next and a very innocent mistake people tend to make- throwing food into the ocean. A common misconception regarding biodegradable items is that if it’s good for the soil, it will do no harm to the ocean too. But unfortunately high amount of nutrients in the water can be really bad for coral reefs. Corals are animals that can only survive in minimal amount of nutrients and by throwing something as small as a banana peel can hinder their growth.
This practise not only affects the corals but also interferes with the food web which determines the balance of this pristine ecosystem. Different fish would usually feed on the bits of food thrown into the ocean when they are supposed to be feeding on some marine organisms below their trophic level causing one group of organisms to overgrow and the other to perish.
So think twice before signing up for touristy activities that encourage throwing bread into the ocean to get fishes closer to you!
You may not realise but putting on sunscreen before you go to a beach on a sunny day or even before getting in the water can be extremely detrimental to the marine life as well. Several chemicals used in sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone has been directly linked to the death of corals. There are several brands that make reef safe sunscreens and are easily available and accessible to all. Making a simple switch like this can make a significant difference as most coral species are extremely slow growing animals and with climate change, plastic pollution, nutrient overload and what not, we can do our bits for the ocean with just these small steps!