Commentary: MERR celebrates World Oceans Day with Delaware

By Suzanne Thurman

Delawareans have much to celebrate on the upcoming World Oceans Day.

The waters off Delaware host over 32 species of marine mammals and sea turtles throughout the year, including large whales such as humpbacks, dolphins, porpoises, manatees, seals, and sea turtles.

Many of these species are endangered and rely on the healthy coastal ecosystem of Delaware to forage for food, give birth, and raise their young. It is an important habitat for bottlenose dolphins, which reside in Delaware waters from February through October. Large whales for centuries have used migratory corridors along the Delaware coast where they teach their calves to feed independently. Four species of seals make their way here from the north during the winter and spring, often resting on beaches and docks. Sea turtles can be found in Delaware waters during the warm summer months and have even begun nesting on Delaware beaches, although this is still a rare event.

Residents and visitors alike take delight in catching a glimpse of these animals in their natural habitat. The ocean brings joy and livelihood to so many and is essential habitat for a multitude of marine species, all of which are interdependent on the other, and all of which are struggling with the many impacts that adversely affect the environment. These include plastic and other pollution, seismic testing, oil drilling, fisheries, noise pollution, shipping, wastewater, toxins, and much more.

Due to these many detrimental factors the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Inc. (MERR) spends every day of the year on call to rescue and respond to the animals that become injured, ill or die as a result. MERR responds to nearly 300 animals per year, such as the gray seal pup that was recently rescued and disentangled from fishing net that was wrapped tightly around its neck.

MERR will celebrate World Oceans Day this year with virtual events June 6-8 that includes activities suitable for all ages with special emphasis on activities for children and families. A highlight will be a screening of “The Adventures of Zack and Molly” followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Jim Toomey, who is the award-winning creator of the syndicated comic strip Sherman’s Lagoon. The World Ocean Day events will be accessible on the MERR website at www.merrinstitute.org.

World Oceans Day activities include taking the Un-plastic Pledge to help reduce the amount of plastic dumped into our ocean every year, and replacing everyday plastic items with sustainable, reusable alternatives. Other ocean-themed art submissions, films, games and activities will be available to help engage, entertain, and educate those who attend this virtual event sponsored by MERR.

MERR is a Lewes-based non-profit organization responsible for providing emergency rescue and response for marine mammals and sea turtles that strand in Delaware. Our commitment to protecting these animals and their ocean habitat is carried out through rescue, research efforts, and education. MERR celebrates World Oceans Day to heighten awareness about the importance of healthy oceans and the many ways that we can contribute to greater ocean conservation by simple actions, such as our consumer choices and proper disposal of fishing line.

We hope that people will find ways to honor and celebrate the ocean and all that it means to our lives not just on World Oceans Day, but all year long.

Suzanne Thurman is executive director of MERR Institute.