The Little-Known Facts About The Ocean
What really lies beneath our oceans? It's a question that has both baffled and intrigued marine biologists for many centuries. After all, vast swathes of the sea remain unexplored, and it's unlikely we will have discovered the contents of the entire seven seas anytime soon.
To put things into perspective, only 27% of our planet is formed of dry land. That means a staggering 73% of the Earth’s surface is covered by the sea, of which only 5% has been explored. In other words: Oceanic expeditions won't be slowing down anytime soon.
However, our knowledge of the ocean, compared to previous generations at least, isn't bad, but unless you're an ocean boffin or a marine biologist, you probably haven't come across these interesting facts that, for both good and bad reasons, will make you view the ocean in an entirely different light.
1. The majority of the sea is entirely dark
If your science teacher taught you anything in school, it was probably the meaning of photosynthesis rather than the fact that light can only travel 200 meters down in the ocean. If you think about that long enough, you'll realize that the ocean is Earth's last remaining unknown. Pretty trippy, right? 200 meters is, after all, only the equivalent of two soccer pitches. That may seem deep, but in reality, that's just treading the surface.
After 200 meters, everything becomes pitch black. This area is known as the Aphotic Zone, where less than 1% of sunlight penetrates. There you will find fascinating fish such as piglet squid and helmet jelly, but here are many more species yet to be discovered.
However, one man who overcame the suffocating pressure of the deep sea was the legendary film director James Cameron, who used his very own submarine to go where no man has gone before and set a new world record for venturing 35, 756 feet below sea level. He didn't discover any new speices, but it was a pretty impressive feat nonetheless.
2. Bacteria galore
While you may feel at one with nature when you step into the sea, the ocean is actually home to thousands of bacteria and viruses. The majority of these are harmless depending on where you are swimming, but for those whose skin is prone to irritation, skin rashes, hepatitis, or staph infections are not unheard of.
In a 2016 study written in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warmer ocean temperatures were found to sometimes spawn harmful bacteria such Vibrio in the northern seas. Vibrio is a water-borne bacterium that can cause cholera, gastroenteritis, and septicaemia.
3. Blue gold
The ocean is a hotbed of treasure, containing nearly 20 million tons of gold that Forbes believes is worth more than $771 trillion, but before you start getting your diving suits on, you should bear in mind that it is diluted. There's also no cost-effective method of mining it, so until some genius comes up with an economical way of distilling it, it will remain untouched. However, this obstacle hasn't stopped people trying.
In the 1890s, pastor Ford Jernegan Jernegan formed the Electrolytic Marine Salts Company to realize his dream of creating the "Gold Accumulator." But while he managed to persuade wealthy investors to part with a total of $1 million (about $26 million in today's money) the company's ambitious old-extraction operation took place in Lubec, Maine, a safe distance away from their investors, who soon realized they wouldn't see any of their cash again.
4. A lot of human bodies
Ocean expeditions, cruise liners, and diving courses may appear safe- and in most cases they are- but that doesn't mean people won't occasionally go missing. Over 200 people have gone missing from cruise liners since the year 2000 alone.
Moreover, around 607 people go missing every single day, and you can bet your bottom dollar that a proportion of those bodies ended up in the ocean. So next time you're swimming with the family on that all-inclusive holiday, bear in mind that there is probably a litany of dead bodies scattered on the ocean bed.
5. Only a fraction of ocean species have been discovered
As we have already explained, the ocean remains virtually unexplored, with scientists estimating that we are yet to make contact with 86% of the world's aquatic species.
To put things into perspective, scientists uncovered 1,451 new species in 2014 alone, which would average around 4 species a day- a truly incredible number.
6. The world's largest mountain range is in the ocean?
Pretty strange, right? It may not seem believable, but the ocean houses the longest mountain range in the world. It's called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a rising bulge that runs the length of the Atlantic Ocean that is approximately 2,500 meters below sea level.
A favorite tourist spot in Iceland due to the ridge passing through the middle of the country, scientists still have no clue what resides there, but there's a strong chance some of those 86% of unknown species would be there.
7. The U.S. Army is one of the world's worst ocean polluters
The U.S. Army helps protect the world from many evils, but one thing it hasn't done well in recent years is making sure the ocean is kept in check! While we hate to criticize people who put their neck on the line for the welfare of their country, they have openly admitted to dumping 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agents into the sea over the years, not to mention an additional 400,000 bombs filled with chemicals, landmines and rockets.
After reading that, you'll probably be less surprised to discover that U.S. domestic and foreign military bases consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, mainly caused by jet and rocket fuel contaminating sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil.
If that wasn't shocking enough, 500 tons of radioactive waste have also been emitted into many seas over the years. These saddening statistics led the environmental website EcoWatch to label the U.S. Department of Defense the "world's largest polluter" and rightly so.
8. Creatures that are 65m years old
Scientists are sure that certain animals living in the deep ocean were alive some 65 million years ago. For instance, the coelacanths were believed to be an ancient extinct species of the Cretaceous period until one miraculously came to the surface in 1938.
Of course, an individual coelacanth's lifespan isn't 65 million years, but there are many species such as the Antarctic sponge (average life expectancy of 1,550 years) that can live for an unfathomable period. However, only one aquatic species can lay claim to immortality, and that's the aptly named, alien-like species, Immortal Jellyfish.
Known to scientists as turritopsis dohrnii, these small, transparent species of jellyfish can be found roaming the Mediterranean sea and waters of Japan. Their immortality is possible due to their ability to retract back to a fetus should they be threatened with starvation or attack. They do this by withdrawing their tentacles and sinking to the ocean floor to respawn the reproductive process.
Using the research that has gone into these fantastic creatures, some scientists are hopeful that the human lifespan could one day improve by hundreds or potentially thousands of years in the not-too-distant future.
9. The ocean never tasted so good
The ocean can help us breathe more than you'd imagine. While oxygen formed from natural habitats such as trees and grass, the ocean is responsible for more than 70% of the air we breathe, which is why the air feels so fresh when you find yourself near a coastline.
But why? Well, it's simple really. As there are many plants nestled below the water, such as algae and plankton, they produce an abundance of oxygen following the natural process of photosynthesis.
10. Deep-sea gigantism will haunt your dreams
You probably won't come across many giant sea creatures when dipping into the warm coastal waters of your next holiday, but there are many species capable of reaching the lower depths of the ocean and growing to sizes that seem disproportionately big.
A few examples include seahorses, squids and crustaceans in a phenomenon that is called "Deep-sea Giganticism". Nobody knows quite why this happens, but possible theories include a natural adaptation to scarcer food resources, a significant increase in water pressure and colder temperatures.
So mythical were these giant sea creatures that fishers failed to believe the giant squid even existed until they started being caught from the 50s onwards.