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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

8 June 2020

Related Study Areas

The oceans and the planet's health

Distinguished Professor Mike Kingsford explains what makes jellyfish so interesting, why the oceans are extremely important to our way of life and what we can do to help.

Mike Kingsford is a marine biologist who researches reef fish, but also jellyfish, which most of us would rather stay away from. Box jellyfish are really interesting creatures – they have 24 eyes but no brain, strong swimming abilities and they can avoid objects and control their position near land. Box jellyfish like to stay close to ‘home’, with many staying in the same area for their whole lives, from larvae to polyp to grown-up jellyfish.

“For example, at Magnetic Island, we know some bays are a higher risk, while some other bays are not,” Mike explains. This is important to know for those who like to go out for a swim, and also for the lifesavers who monitor the beaches, and who work together with the researchers in order to save lives.

There is also an uncountable number of plant and animal species that populate our oceans, and that have such a great impact on our lives.

“People forget that 70 per cent of the planet is actually ocean, not earth,” Mike says. "Looking after the our oceans is incredibly important, it’s about the health of the planet. We need to have respect for that because the persistence of humans depends on a healthy ocean."

Healthy oceans are vital for our wellbeing

Respecting the oceans is the first step towards protecting them, an act which is vital for our collective wellbeing. Oceans not only house a wealth of protein for people, but they are critical for absorbing greenhouse gases and for maintaining the health of planet Earth.

Further, they sustain remarkable biodiversity and beauty that should be enjoyed by all into the future. This is why it’s important to act. "There are 7.7 billion of us on the planet," Mike says. "A high percentage of those live close to coastlines, and the brutal truth is, we all have an impact.”

"We can all have a role, even if you consider it quite minor."

Distinguished Professor Mike Kingsford

What we can do to help

Historically, caring for the reef was left to the governments. But we all have roles to play.

Climate change is altering oceans and the nature of environments in which marine organisms live. Minimising our use of fossil fuels and maximising our use of alternative energy such as solar, wind driven and tidal power all helps to reduce global emissions. Fisheries are important worldwide, but consider how those fish are caught and whether practices are sustainable without destroying habitats and non-target species.

The nature of development matters. For example, it is important to consider the consequences of building on shorelines or removing habitats such as mangroves.

“We need to respect habitats, like mangroves, which people think are smelly and nasty but are actually important recruitment areas for fish, and they maintain our coastline,” Mike explains.

All of us can contribute to keep the oceans clean, “like respecting the ocean by not dumping water bottles and other plastic rubbish in there. Because plastics can last in the system for a very long while and affect many levels of the food chain

People can help the ocean is by joining beach clean-ups, which is also a good way to meet like-minded people.  At the end of the day it is only through the view of ‘the masses’ that political change can place greater emphasis on the value of our oceans.

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Featured researcher

Mike Kingsford

Distinguished Professor

Mike is a Distinguished Professor in the Marine Biology and Aquaculture group of the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University (JCU), Australia. He has published extensively on the ecology of reef fishes, biological oceanography, climate change and jellyfishes. In total he has one hundred and eighty nine publications including three major books, thirty-six chapters in books, 143 refereed publications and nine refereed proceedings. He is a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Innovative Coral Reef Studies.

A major focus of Michael's research has been on reef fish ecology and demography, connectivity of reef fish populations, the ecology and behavior of larval fishes, the utility of Marine Protected Areas, environmental records in corals and fishes. He has thirty-five years of research experience of studying fishes in temperate and tropical regions of Australia and other parts of the world.