Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Four pillars of ocean health

Rockfish and red tree coral

Living Oceans Society is working to ensure that the four pillars of ocean health are part of the plan for our oceans.

Habitat is essential for the survival of living things in the ocean. Young organisms use habitat to hide from predators; older ones use habitat to rest and as places to hunt for prey. Some need special habitats at important parts of their lives.

Unfortunately, some of the most important habitats are easily damaged by human activities. Deep sea corals and sponges, for example, provide habitat for a number of fish and invertebrates - but they are fragile and are easily damaged or destroyed by human activities, including fisheries that use destructive fishing gears like bottom trawling.

The old saying is true: no habitat, no fish.

Biodiversity is truly priceless. Why is this?

Scientists believe that diversity within and between living things acts like diversity in a stock portfolio: when conditions change, some things will do well, while other things may not do so well. The result is that the overall portfolio stays relatively stable in the face of change.

The different levels of biodiversity are thought to have a similar effect on living things and ecosystems. Genetic diversity within a species, diversity between species, and diversity of ecosystems are thought to buffer living things and ecosystems against changing environmental conditions.

In turn, this allows people to build livelihoods and communities that rely upon stable ocean ecosystems.

Food webs are the connections between predator and prey. They are the paths through which energy and nutrients cycle through living things in the ocean. All living things in the ocean are a part of food webs.

Ocean food webs are more than just 'the big fish eat the little fish', too. Here on the coast of British Columbia, the ocean food web includes whales, seals, sea lions, otters, sea birds, eagles, wolves, bears, and, of course, humans.

All of these creatures, and many more, rely upon healthy ocean food webs.

What's the issue, then? Well, it's that human activities can cause major changes to ocean food webs. These changes can in turn have unforeseen consequences for the entire marine ecosystem.

We've long ignored our impacts on ocean food webs, but in order to ensure that our oceans remain healthy, this must change.

Water quality is the most important thing for life in the ocean whether it's water temperature, pH, oxygen content, or toxin loads.

Unfortunately, humans are affecting all of these aspects of water quality: climate change is warming water, ocean acidification is changing ocean pH levels, ‘dead zones’ caused by fertilizer runoff are creating large areas of reduced oxygen content, and we continue to pollute our oceans with a variety of toxic substances.

To ensure a healthy ocean, we must protect the quality of ocean water. After all, it’s one of the four pillars of ecosystem health.