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Recap of the Hunter College Greenbelt Society 2020 World Oceans Day Event

Every year on June 8th the world celebrates World Oceans Day. In the U.S. June is our annual celebration of National Oceans Month and this was marked by an event that took place at Hunter College on June 26th 2020. The virtual event was organized and hosted by The Greenbelt Society and the Department of Geography and Environmental Science. The event provided a joyful time to learn about the oceans and inspire actions to conserve natural resources and to combat environmental pollution that is damaging the ocean. A detailed program with names and topics of presenters can be found here.

In his welcoming remarks, Enrique Lanz Oca greeted an enthusiastic audience of seventy people from around the globe by sharing some information on the ecological history of the town in Spain where he is from, Santander. Lanz Oca thanked the speakers for their contributions to the event and reminded us of the vision and mission of The Greenbelt Society, namely: learning and engaging in environmental stewardship and providing a platform to actively participate in sustainable development and intellectual discussions.

To celebrate the oceans, Haydee Salmun reminded us that life began in the ocean over 3 billion years ago and yet aquatic life still remains fully unexplored. A large percent of the ocean is unmapped and although sun light hardly makes it to the depth of 1,000 meters, what is able to make it into the ocean is a large amount of non-biodegradable materials, the result of the large world population living in coastal areas. Consequently, someone is three times as likely to run into trash in the ocean than into much-feared sharks or into one of the 25,000 islands contained in the Pacific Ocean. That’s right! Besides, 80% of sharks are unable to hurt humans. Salmun left us with the inspiring words of UN Chief Antonio Guterres, delivered for the occasion of World Oceans Day. See his presentation here.

Our program continued with two sessions of short research presentations. The first set of presentations was started by Randye Rutberg whose work is an example of the importance of past knowledge about the ocean to assess and understand our ocean today and in an evolving future. Rutberg summarized her work using data from models and marine sediments to understand the ocean’s role in long-term climate change. The three presentations that followed focused mainly in environmental hazards, starting with Natalie Monterrosa who highlighted the oceans role in Earth system followed by a summary review of the threats of marine heatwaves, a topic that has become more pressing as global warming proceeds. Carrie Garrison-Laney spoke about her research to identify past tsunami events analyzing deposits in the area of Puget Sound, WA, which is motivated by improving tsunami forecast in the area. The first part of our program was completed by Diana Polonska who spoke eloquently about the accumulation of plastic-based material in the oceans and potential clean-up methods.

The second set of presentations highlighted the intimate connection among environmental threats and changes across all scales as well as the interdependence between the physical and human environment. Addressing interconnectivity of scales, Haydee Salmun discussed progress on an observational study of environmental indicators in Paradise Bay, an area of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, and how the local focus relates to the current signs of change in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The next two presentations focused on environmental remediation on local and regional scales. From Antarctica we were taken to the west coast of Alaska by Howard Sprouce, who discussed the use of virtual communication to conduct business between remote villages in the Northern areas of the Arctic and outside world to promote programs in bioremediation. Meg Chadsey discussed her research on ocean acidification, the potential of seaweed aquaculture and the serendipitous environmental benefits of kelp. The research presentations of our event closed with Ramiro Campos who connected the physical environment and the human dimension by discussing monsoons, a climate phenomenon, and the importance of indigenous wisdom to understand climate and ocean science.

The event ended with comments by the chairperson of our department, Marianna Pavlovskaya. She appreciated the contributions of all panelists and the initiative of the organizers for this important event at Hunter College. Pavlovskaya mentioned the great expertise of our former students and the dedication of professionals that resulted in an event that stressed the significance of leaning about the ocean, its vital importance to humanity and the detrimental issues causing its destruction. Finally, she highlighted that the event was a good example of the projections among local, regional and global spaces since out speakers were from different coasts of the US, our participants were attending from different parts of the world, our research addresses different areas of the global ocean and we all together listened to Antonio Guterres emphasizing “Innovations for a Sustainable Ocean,” an international initiative that promotes ocean science and the innovations that will save the lifeblood of our planet.