Only 4% of the world's oceans are protected — and a lot of that's in a country you haven't heard of.
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The Wilderness Society

For something that makes up 71% of the surface of the planet, it's kind of crazy to think that we only protect 4% of our ocean water.

It goes without saying that water is important. It comprises 55% to 78% percent of our bodies and about 19% of the electricity in the world. tl;dr — it's pretty crucial to our survival.

But while water can do some amazing things, it can't stand up and protect itself from things like massive oil spills or other man-made damages to its regulatory systems. Mostly it just lays there, passively sloshing back and forth, and oh yeah, cultivating an incredible ecosystem for millions of amazing creatures.


And yet, for all the time that we've spent fighting over land, there's still 140 million square miles of the Earth's surface that no one's looking out for. Does that seem odd to you?


Water, water everywhere... Photo by NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

But now an island nation that's smaller than New York City has created a new ocean reserve the size of California.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean just north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines, Palau is a tiny presidential republic of 21,000 people spread across 250 separate islands.

But the country's legal property extends an additional twelve nautical miles around each island, bringing Palau's overall size up to nearly 193,000 square miles. These waters are home to some of the most diverse and remarkable aquatic ecosystems on the planet, with more than 700 different kinds of coral and 1,300 unique species of fish.

And as of Oct. 22, 2015, 80% of Palau's aquatic area has been designated as protected ocean territory. The remaining 20% will remain open to local fisherman and a limited number of other small-scale commercial activities.


An Indo-Pacific coral reef, like what might be found in the waters around Palau. Photo via Fascinating Universe/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite its limited landmass, Palau's new ocean reserve is one of the largest on the planet — and makes up the largest percentage of protected waters.

New Zealand's own, recently-announced ocean reserve will be 620,000 square miles but only 15% of their total exclusive economic zone (the UN-recognized open water borders).

The United States currently protects less than 4% of its waters, compared to 18% of its total landmass; of course, that's still 490,000 square miles of ocean.

Chile has also committed to protecting a total of 350,000 square miles of ocean between their coasts and the waters around Easter Island.

While the U.K.'s Pitcairn Islands reserve only measures 322,000 square miles, it does have the distinction of being the largest single and uninterrupted marine protected area on the planet so far.


Rock Island, Palau. Photo by Matt Kieffer/Flickr.

This kind of action is particularly important in places like Palau that face the brunt of our ecological problems.

While some of us can more easily go about our lives oblivious to the environmental damage being done to the planet by the human race, people in places like Palau are not so lucky. They still rely on local fishing and other natural resources to survive, and even as we speak, the rising sea levels threaten to swallow up the shores beneath their feet.

"Island communities have been among the hardest hit by the threats facing the ocean," said Palau president Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. in the press release announcing this new ocean protection initiative. "Creating this sanctuary is a bold move that the people of Palau recognize as essential to our survival. We want to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations."


A lake with jellyfish in Palau. Photo by Onyo/Wikimedia Commons.

So let's stand together and tell our world leaders to protect the rest of our precious waters.

We can start just south of Palau with Australia's Great Bight, the longest east-west ice-free coastline in the southern hemisphere. The Bight is currently being threatened by oil drillers like BP, risking the lives and livelihood of countless animals and people alike.

After you're done with that, come back here and have a look for yourself at just how amazing these underwater habitats can be:

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.