Celebrating 20 Years of World Oceans Day

By Kate Jirik, science educator

A few days ago, I was at my community library when I overheard a conversation between a mother and her two children. The family was leaving for a lake vacation and had stopped by to find some children’s books for the trip. The mother quietly waited while the kids made their selections. The first child returned to the mother with a Christmas book.

“Go pick out something more summer-y,” the mother instructed. The second child came back with a Halloween book.

“Is it a holiday I don’t know about?” the mother chided.

I smiled to myself, thinking, “If only the kids had pulled a copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish off the shelf, this mother might be content in knowing Dr. Seuss’ beloved story is the centerpiece of summer’s most exciting celebration: World Oceans Day.”

First conceived during an Earth Summit conference in 1992 (and officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008), World Oceans Day annually reserves June 8 to celebrate the importance of the oceans and international conservation efforts.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps welcomed more than 2,500 visitors this month to take part in that celebration, guided by this year’s theme, “Oceans of Inspiration.” Young visitors searched the aquarium for Dr. Seuss’ zany fish characters while learning surprising facts about the oceans. For example, did you know that 50-80 percent of all life and 99 percent of all living space on Earth is in the oceans?

We streamed live video from the JOIDES Resolution research vessel in the Atlantic Ocean, as Scripps researcher (and former aquarium educator) Caitlin Scully spoke with guests about the expedition’s search for fossils buried in the seafloor.

Visitors spoke live with Scripps’ Caitlin Scully, who was onboard the JOIDES Resolution research vessel conducting climate change research in the North Sea.

During a sneak peek of the San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition, visitors watched breathtaking footage of thumb-sized cuttlefish stealthily crawling over a coral reef and manta rays summersaulting through blooms of zooplankton.

“Oceans inspire people with their beauty,” said Birch Aquarium Education Specialist Audrey Evans. “Many people don’t realize that the oceans affect them every day. And that is why World Oceans Day is so important – to help us understand the connection between ocean, earth, and atmosphere.”

World Ocean Day

Visitors explored ocean biofacts during our World Oceans Day Celebration.

The oxygen we breathe, the food and water we rely on, the climate we experience, the protection provided by coastal habitats  ̶ all of these are dependent on the oceans. In the words of oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the oceans are “our planet’s life support system.”

Scientists have learned that some ocean life is resilient, but much of it is fragile. What can help motivate people to care about ocean ecosystems? How can people be inspired by marine science? One essential component is engaging ocean experiences for families.

“Fostering an enjoyment of nature is so important when children are young,” Evans said. “A sense of connection to the ocean can be made early if you live in a coastal area, but people can have that same experience when they’re older, too.”

So this summer, whether you are six or 60, visit an aquarium or go bird watching near a saltmarsh. Pick up trash on a beach or photograph a tide pool.

And read Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to someone you love. Let your imagination stretch its legs, and let the oceans inspire you.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego