Life on Planet Earth: Water and Ocean Life

About the impotance of water in all forms of life on planet Earth, the variety of fish and other ocean life.


In spite of all the imaginative speculations of science-fiction literature, and hopeful prognostications among scientists, the surface of earth is the only place in the entire cosmos where life is known to exist. And here it is possible only because of the watery environment which supports it.

Water thus is life and life is water. Perhaps if one could explain what water is, it would also be possible to explain life itself. Is water the living element, life itself, and are all the socalled living things--plankton, people, plants, pachyderms--mere peripheral capillaries on the outer fringes of the great inner flow of the planet's true anima mundi, the living body and spirit of "Planet Water" that pumps so endlessly and tirelessly throughout all of our world's infinite tissues and stream beds?

Life came into existence on earth possibly during the period when the earth's atmosphere was still like that of today's gaseous outer planets--a combination of ammonia and methane. In a manner explicable scientifically (and already reproduced in a laboratory), primordial simple life forms came into being. Thereafter, various necessary steps took place, making for today's "normal" living conditions. A topside layer of ozone blocked off the sun's more lethal rays. The atmosphere became filled with life-supporting oxygen. The earth's ocean basins (over a newly hardened crust of basalt) filled with salt water. The chemical content of human blood today approximates that of the ocean waters at the time when our ancestors emerged from their primordial bath-birth.

The global "biomass" of human, animal, and plant life--from microscopic one-celled jets of life to huge 100-ton blue whales (the largest creatures ever to live on earth)--collectively represents a total of 2 million million tons. Of the biomass, the human segment amounts to only one part in 10,000.

Eighty-five percent of all the planet's inhabitants still reside in the sea as perpetual wanderers, the drifting plankton. There are some 20,000 species of fish in the sea, of which less than 1/50 are used for food, oil, or fertilizer. The world catch of fish presently amounts to about 60 million metric tons, 95% caught in the northern hemisphere, of which the U.S. catch amounts to 5 million tons annually.

The size of fish populations can be fantastic. A shoal of herring, the most important food fish, may have from a half billion to 3 billion individual fish in it. However, world oceans are presently being overfished, and individual nations have been escalating their offshore territorial limits to remove foreign fishing vessels from these coastal waters.

Off the Pacific coast of South America, upwelling creates vast pastures of plankton, which nourish crabs, anchovy, and sardines. "Sharks, sailfish, bonito, and mackerel all stalk the tiny predators," Wesley Marx reported in The Frail Ocean. "Amid the splashing frenzy, the Eastern Tropical Pacific celebrates its fertility . . . that attracts high-seas fishing fleets and triggers one of the fiercest, most relentless battles for supremacy in man's predatory history. The object of this competition, the yellowfin tuna, ranks in the aristocracy of fishdom." A UN conference during the summer of 1974--intended to set up a meaningful "Law of the Sea"--broke up with no decisions, merely a promise to hold another indecisive talkathon the following year.

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