According to the United States Geological Survey, they cover more than 70% of our planet’s surface and contain 96.5% of its water. The health of our oceans directly impacts the health of almost every ecosystem and organism on the planet.
That’s why, since 2009, the United Nations has declared every June 8 as World Oceans Day. The aim is to raise awareness about the benefits that humans derive from oceans and our duty to use resources in a way that ensures future generations can also enjoy them. These benefits cover a broad range, including oxygen production — the National Ocean Service in the U.S. estimates that oceans produce 50% to 80% of the Earth’s oxygen — and artistic inspiration.
The theme of World Oceans Day 2022 is Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean. The ocean connects, sustains, and supports us all. Yet its health is at a tipping point and so is the well-being of all that depends on it.
PCL builds projects all over North America, the Caribbean and Australia — including protected bays and Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coastal areas. We recognize the importance of our oceans, and we take great care to make sure we respect the environment when working on water adjacent projects. Our offices also organize and participate in shoreline cleanups and other community events that contribute to the health of nearby aquatic ecosystems.
For our renovation of the University of California San Diego’s Center for Coastal Studies, PCL took extraordinary precautions in response to its environmentally sensitive coastal location and strict California Coastal Commission requirements. Completed in 2020, researchers at this three-story, 11,000-square-foot facility focus on coastal erosion and rising sea levels due to climate change. During the renovation, which allowed for no enlargement of the facility’s footprint, we renovated the lower two floors — reusing much of the original concrete structure built in the 1940s — and replaced the third floor with a new wood-frame structure.
Throughout the project, our team took a “light touch” approach to the site, keeping new materials to a minimum. When new materials had to be brought in, we made sure they were low in volatile organic compounds, and we took extra precautions to prevent chemicals leeching into the nearby beach and water.
The project earned LEED Gold certification and won the Build San Diego Sustainability Award from the Associated General Contractors of America.
In Canada, our work on the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre — situated along Vancouver Harbour and the Pacific Ocean — shines the brightest light on our efforts to keep oceans healthy. Completed in 2009, the expansion’s foundation includes an artificial concrete reef that was designed in collaboration with marine biologists to restore the ecology of the nearby shoreline. The concrete extends down five tiers, with each tier supporting its own set of organisms. Together, they form a complete shoreline ecosystem that’s home to salmon, crabs, starfish and dozens of other native species.
The building itself became the first Double LEED Platinum-certified convention center in the world. It features 1.2 million square feet of convention space, 40% of which was built over water in Vancouver Harbour. Ocean water is used in the central plant to heat and cool the entire building. The six-acre living roof acts as an insulator and is home to more than 400,000 indigenous plant and grass species, along with four beehives. Rainwater collected on the roof is naturally filtered through the plants and foil before returning to oceans and rivers. Wastewater is treated on-site and reused in toilet flushing and rooftop irrigation systems.
Protecting the ocean is also a huge consideration for PCL’s civil infrastructure projects in coastal areas. A prominent example is the Solana Beach Sewer Pump Station Upgrades project in Solana Beach, California, north of San Diego. This sewer pump station is situated on the edge of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, requiring extra care and diligence to ensure protection of natural habitats.
While performing upgrades, we had to reduce the potential for stormwater from the station polluting the lagoon. Because the stormwater basin was 15 feet below grade, we were constantly pumping groundwater out of the site. This became more challenging due to the water table fluctuating with the tides. By working closely with our trade partners and employing several different techniques — including wells, sump pumps and additional shoring — we completed the project with no leaks into the ecosystem.
At the Largo Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Largo, Florida, we constructed a new pump station capable of handling 18 million gallons of wastewater per day. Combined with the existing facility’s capacity of 15 million gallons per day, that’s enough to handle the surge that comes with severe weather events like a Category 4 hurricane. The upgraded facility is resilient and is built to withstand storms of the future. It will provide the community with wastewater treatment operations that will remain fully functional during storms and will prevent overflow from discharging into local waterways.
1. Use Fewer Plastic Products
- According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 14 million tons of plastic wind up in oceans every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris. Marine animals can ingest or get entangled in this debris, causing severe injury or death. Plastics can destroy marine habitats.
2. Eat Sustainably
- Be aware of where your seafood comes from. Overfishing can lead to fish population depletion and habitat destruction. Look for labels like the Marine Stewardship Council Blue Label that certify seafood comes from a sustainable source.
3. Use Eco-Friendly Products
- Dish soaps, laundry detergents and personal care items may contain chemicals (such as phosphates, parabens, antimicrobial agents and artificial fragrances) or plastic microbeads that can harm marine life. Look for products that don’t contain these materials and come in reusable or recyclable containers.