This past month marked an incredible period of awareness and action around climate change. Passionate youth took to the streets, news outlets across the country shared stories about human impacts on our environment, and world leaders gathered in New York and Europe to discuss next steps in the face of our shared global crisis.

At the Seattle Aquarium, we are deeply concerned about the threat climate change poses to our communities and ocean. As the Earth’s largest heat and carbon sink, the ocean is our best defense in the fight against climate change. And right now, the ocean — and all who depend on it — need our help.

With so much climate-related news it might be easy to miss a recently released and first-of-a-kind report by the  United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that confirms just how much the ocean is suffering from the impacts of climate change. This special report, which included contributions from more than 100 climate experts from 36 nations, paints a stark picture of what is happening to our planet and how things will worsen if we fail to act. Melting land ice, sea ice and glaciers are causing sea levels to rise faster than ever before. Coastal flooding will increase as sea levels rise, and extreme events like hurricanes and storm surges will become more common and more severe. The diversity and numbers of marine fish and wildlife will decline due to warming water, shrinking habitats and dying coral reefs.

Coastal cities like Seattle will disproportionately feel the impacts from climate change, and it is critical we continue to show leadership. Local forecasters estimate 1-2 feet of sea-level rise in the Seattle area by 2050, and the Center for Climate Integrity estimates that Washington state will need to build more than 1,600 miles of sea walls at a cost of $24 billion to help deal with rising waters. Receding glaciers and snow packs will alter seasonal water supplies hurting hydropower production, and rising ocean temperatures will impact already depleted fish stocks, including salmon that are critical to our native peoples, fishers and our beloved southern resident orcas.

Waves smack a breakwater, sending salt spray onto homes along Puget Sound during a 2017 windstorm in Seattle. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson, File)
Waves smack a breakwater, sending salt spray onto homes along Puget Sound during a 2017 windstorm in Seattle. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson, File)

We can’t let this report be just another analysis of how climate change is hurting our planet. It must be a call to action. The science is clear — we need to take bold and decisive action now if we want to keep the ocean and planet healthy. The good news is that we know what to do. Climate knows no boundaries, and so we must work together across ideological lines, across the West Coast, across the Pacific and beyond to share knowledge, resources and successes to truly advance the transformational changes needed to save our planet.

First, it is critical that we all dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, which causes ocean acidification. That means continued investment in renewable energy sources, a strong commitment by our elected leaders to hold our largest polluters accountable and individual actions by all of us to help reduce our carbon footprint.

The ocean absorbs 30% of our planet’s carbon dioxide, and we must work to conserve and restore our coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems, including mangroves, sea grass meadows and salt marshes that help clean our air by sequestering carbon. Further, it is critical that we establish a network of protected areas here in Washington’s waters and across the globe to help increase resilience and contribute toward reaching IUCN’s goal of 30% coverage by 2030.

Transboundary, transnational collaborations; reducing greenhouse-gas emissions; conserving and restoring critical ecosystems; and promoting sustainable ecosystems-based management — this is how we can help the ocean heal itself. Our children are looking to us and demanding that we ensure they have a future. Join us, answer their calls to action, and ignite hope as we work together to save the life-support system of our planet.