On Friday, July 2, a gas leak west of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula gushed out of an underwater pipeline, leading to a raging fire on the ocean’s surface. 

The fire was extinguished about five hours later, but the bright flames boiling up to the Gulf of Mexico’s surface is another reminder of just how delicate our ocean ecosystem is. 

Disasters like the one we witnessed last Friday show us, among many things, the importance of properly weighing the risks of extracting resources from the ocean. This type of extraction is exponentially increasing, creating additional stresses on the critical ecosystems upon which we all depend. From the Exxon Valdez to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we seem to have a hard time learning our lesson. Even Petróleos Mexicanos, more commonly known as Pemex — the company overseeing this recent incident — has a well-known track record of major accidents at its facilities and oil wells, including fatal explosions in 2012, 2013 and 2016.

The ocean is our earth’s life support. Covering 71% of our planet, the ocean is earth’s most effective tool to regulate our climate, houses phytoplankton that are responsible for at least 50% of our oxygen, and holds 97% of the earth’s water. It provides a source of food for billions of people, supports an abundance of life, and creates millions of jobs in the tourism and the fisheries sectors. 

When we protect the ocean, the ocean protects us back. And last week’s incident has taught us this: if we are to use the ocean to improve our own health, we first need to address threats to the ocean’s health. We need to be stewards of the sea.

At The Ocean Foundation, we are extremely proud to host over 50 unique projects that span a variety of marine conservation efforts in addition to our own core initiatives aimed at addressing ocean acidification, advancing nature-based blue carbon solutions, and confronting the plastic pollution crisis. We act as the only community foundation for the ocean, because we know the ocean is global and requires an international community to respond to emerging threats.

While we are grateful there were no injuries last Friday, we know the full environmental implications of this incident, like so many that have occured before, will not be fully understood for decades — if ever. These disasters will continue to occur so long as we neglect our responsibility as ocean stewards and collectively recognize the critical importance of protecting and conserving our world ocean. 

The fire alarm is ringing; it’s time we listen.