I almost drowned twice when I was a kid, both on the same day. We were at a beach in Queensland. Queensland has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and I was lucky enough to grow up near them. My Dad was trying to teach me how to body surf, which is basically riding waves into shore. The waves were big. I was small. My Dad took the whole metaphor about “throwing you into the deep end” a little too literally. After he threw me in the first time and I nearly drowned, I kicked and screamed not to be dragged out again. But he was bigger than me. Impossibly bigger. Like a cat is to a mouse. He chucked me in. I went under. The only thing bigger than him was the ocean.
I lost all sense of direction. The waves were tumbling me deeper and deeper, pulling body parts in ways that they weren’t supposed to go. When the churning had stopped I was deep under water. I had to think my way out. First I looked for the sunlight so I could figure out which way was up. I swam to the bottom of the ocean floor, because it was closer than the surface, and I kicked off. I was rising rising, I was so near the sunlight. But I’d been holding my breath for too long already. People suppose drowning to be peaceful, but it’s not. It’s incredibly painful. My lungs were burning and just before I reached the surface I had to breathe in. It was an illogical involuntary response. I must have breathed in about a cup of water. Trying to think. I let myself go limp and let the waves carry me to shore. When I reached it I coughed and I coughed and I survived.
When I get bad news I often feel like I’m drowning. The tightness in my chest. Blurry vision, heart racing. I’m feeling it right now as I read that phytoplankton numbers have plummeted due to global warming.
Phytoplankton are amazing creatures. In two ways they are the very basis of all life on Earth.
Phytoplankton are microscopic creatures that live in impossibly large swarms in the ocean. You can’t see them individually, but you can see them collectively because they turn the ocean slightly green. They’re green because, like plants, they photosynthesise. They turn carbon dioxide, sunlight and minerals into oxygen, energy and organic compounds. In fact they do it so much that they’re responsible for about half of all photosynthesis on Earth. They’re more important to breathing than the Amazon rainforest.
To quote this article:
“About two-thirds of the planet’s total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton – and therefore cessation would result in the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale. This would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”
I can’t breathe.
Their other important role is as the creators of the organic compounds that form the basis of all food in the oceans. They are the littlest things that everything else eats. Without phytoplankton, the oceans would be a desert, devoid of life. Even though we live on land, we are dependant on the oceanic ecosystem for survival.
This article reckons that their numbers in the Indian Ocean have dropped by 20% since the 1950’s. Ignore that name, ignore national borders, this affects us all. Back to this article and we learn that 6 degrees of warming, which we should meet by 2100, should be enough to basically stop oxygen production by phytoplankton.
I’m in the ocean again, but this time it’s dead. I’m being pulled in impossible directions. I can’t breathe.