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Nonfiction in response to Life Below Water
February 2019

Around the World

By Grace Muresan

7 cities. 4 countries. 4 continents. 7 problems. And 1 world, from 11 year old perspective.


Through my travels, I learned a lot about the different places and how, even though they all have their unique climates, cultures, people, and water sources, their water and ocean-related problems are often the same or similar. Many of these problems’ causes lie in global warming and climate change and can lead to a decline in the economy and living conditions. But what are the solutions, and what is the true scale of these problems? My 2018 travelogue will help you find out.


Reno, Nevada, January 1, 2018.

In January, I went skiing on Mount Rose in Lake Tahoe. Every year, there is less and less snow, and, although the changes are so tiny they’re barely noticeable, over generations, a lot has changed. If there isn’t enough snow on the slopes to ski and/or snowboard, the winter economy of Reno could collapse. In one ski resort, it doesn’t really matter. However, Antarctica, for example, holds about 90% of the world’s ice. If all of the ice melted, the sea would rise 200 feet. More and more of the world’s water supply would be held in the ocean, which would lead to drought and even countries sinking underwater.


Although most of the places prone to sinking are islands between India and Australia and the Caribbean islands, other countries suffering from flooding already are parts of the United States, Vietnam, Japan, Ireland, United Kingdom, Bangladesh, and The Netherlands.


It isn’t only these countries that are in danger, though. Think about this: Say that even just a few cities sink underwater, in remote, third-world countries.


Imagine all of the houses, power plants, landfills, radioactive waste sites, water cleaning plants, everything, all of that will be in the water. The ocean is one large constantly circulating mass, right? Therefore, if all of this goes underwater in a developing country where there isn’t enough time or money to remove the most dangerous items, all of this trash and dirty water and radioactive junk will be drifting around the world, the ocean its unknowing highway, and us, in general, its next victims.


Dry Tortugas, Florida, March 22, 2018; and Big Island, Hawai’i, November 28, 2018.

In March, I was snorkeling in Dry Tortugas, an island just south of Florida (but still part of it.) I noticed, just as I did when I went snorkeling in Big Island, Hawaii in November, how white and dull the coral reefs were and how few fish there were. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white. This is happening all around the world. For example, The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in the past two years from unprecedented bleaching in 2016 and 2017, respectively. This is very bad news to the environment and the economy in many places, because coral reefs are extremely important. First of all, they protect coastlines from the damaging effects of waves and tropical storms. Hurricanes and extreme weather are becoming more and more common, especially in the Atlantic Ocean. They provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms and many fish spawn there, so fishing industries depend on them. Another economy-related reason why coral reefs are important is tourism. The Great Barrier Reef, for example, generates more than 1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy, from fishing and tourism alone. Coral reefs must be protected. But how do we do that?


Some ways are:

  • Avoid striking or touching a coral reef

  • Never fish or boat near a coral reef

  • Don't litter on the beach or in the ocean.

  • Snorkel and scuba dive carefully.

  • Don't purchase coral souvenirs.

  • Oppose global warming.

  • Boycott fish caught using damaging fishing methods.


If, sometime in the future, all coral reefs became suddenly or eventually became bleached, the economy for both tourism and fisheries would begin to fail. Countries on the coast would suffer far more harshly from natural disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes, and ocean ecosystems would suffer damage as well.


Transylvania region, Romania, May 16, 2018.

When I visited Romania, I found it to be a very enjoyable destination due to the mild climate and occasional rain when I went in May, and thought that the only problem was a strange abundance of flies, and that my brother and I were told to avoid drinking tap water. However, with more research, I found out that Romania’s power plants depend heavily on burning fossil fuels, which leads to serious air pollution. Additionally, most of the nation’s industrial runoff ends up in the Danube river system, which flows through ten countries and its waters served as a vital commercial highway between nations and a main water source for Romania (for irrigation, not drinking). Before the 1950s, water quality in Romania was good with the Danube river providing a good source of clean, easily-accessible water. However, since the 1960s, large-scale economic and industrial growth led to widespread water pollution. The main form of pollution was chemical fertilizers for agriculture, which released extreme amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the water. This continued until around 1990, when new rules to correct this problem were introduced. Since then, water quality in Romania has increased significantly. However, it is still worse than the water quality before 1960.


Sumatra island, Indonesia, June 29, 2018.

Every year, since 2007, I visit Indonesia. Indonesia is a beautiful place, however, as far as I noticed, they suffer from two main water-related problems: Tsunamis and overfishing.


If you read the news, you probably have heard about the tsunami that struck Java in December. More than 16,000 people were displaced, and of those 429 are dead, more than 1,400 people are injured, and at least 128 people are missing. In 2004, years before this recent tsunami, was a far more severe tsunami that struck Sumatra, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and parts of India. As it struck, the tsunami instantly killed more that 100,000 people, only in Sumatra. The total death toll was about 230,000 people.

Although at the moment, there is nothing we can do to stop these natural disasters, we can prevent so many people from dying by improving tsunami protection engineering. For example, the use of seawalls in front of ports and cities can lighten its blow. Another effective method to protect a city from a tsunami is planting trees. So many people died in the recent Indonesian tsunami due to the tsunami alarm’s failure, therefore these alarms should be renewed more often and installed in more places.


Indonesia’s other main problem is overfishing. Overfishing is done because:

  1. Large Population that needs to be fed, therefore high demand, and fish are/were plentiful

  2. Harmful fishing methods that have been used for decades, and there are few regulations

  3. Fishing is highly profitable for companies and individuals

  4. Consumers are unaware of the damage they are doing

  5. Poverty- people can only buy the cheapest products, so there is no boycotting

  6. Corrupted Government- paid by large fishing companies to abolish regulations


Because of the mass of the world’s oceans, society in general thinks/thought that it would be impossible to ever run out of fish. On the contrary, we could face a global collapse of all fisheries as near as in 2048. One of the most plausible ways to stop overfishing are to create no-catch zones in the sea where fishing is illegal, so that ocean ecosystems have the time and space to recover from our damage.

Another way is to stop and/or ban trawling, a way to catch fish that includes dragging a huge net in a part of the ocean that capture all ocean life in the area. The amount to fish caught is uncontrolled, and there is plenty of bycatch like dead fish and trash. The collateral damage done to ecosystems in the region is extreme.

Nothing is spared.


Going back a little to Dry Tortugas, Florida, coral reefs are a large part of ocean ecosystems and their loss would affect fishing in many places catastrophically.


Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, December 25, 2018.

In December, I went on a 2-week tour in South Africa through Johannesburg and Cape Town. My family and I saw many safari animals, including the Big 5 and Madagascar penguins, and enjoyed African cuisine, culture, and climate, but during our stay, I learned a disturbing fact that many overpass about these cities’ water sources.


Johannesburg is currently a beautiful, stereotypical urban city, with malls and hotels and people and graffiti, and unfortunately an infamously high crime rate. However, it didn’t start out this way at all. The city was established in 1886 due to the finding of gold on a farm. As it goes in any place where gold is discovered, there was a huge gold rush which resulted in a large population. However, being at an elevation of 5,751 ft, it has no reliable water source. As a result of this, they have to import water from Lesotho, which is 320 km away. If the system they use somehow breaks, the citizens of Johannesburg will be left dry for an uncertain period of time, with very little or no water.


If anything, Cape Town is in a worse situation. Their main water source used to be underground, however they began to run low and it was soon realized, Mexico City as an example, that when you use too much water from an underground source the city will sink lower and lower as that water mass is removed.

As a result of this information, the city’s leaders announced a “Day Zero”, when they would have no water left, on April 16, 2018. However, due to the efforts of the community to save water, Day Zero was pushed farther and farther back, then finally not given a date, although it may happen in 2019.

However, with recent droughts and a resulting lack of water, the water allowance for residents has been moved from 87 liters to 50 liters per day, starting February 1. Unfortunately, even the existing rationing has proved to be less than successful. Mayor Patricia de Lille accused 60 percent of residents of "maliciously consuming more than 87 liters without heed to warnings of the horrible consequences. As of now, there is little more Cape Town can do to stop entirely Day Zero other than to keep saving water.


In my travelogue, you have read about the 7 water-related dilemmas and issues that these 7 cities face. The problems they experience:

  • Ice caps melting/oceans rising

  • Coral reef bleaching

  • Water pollution

  • Natural Disasters

  • Overfishing

  • Unstable Water source(s)

  • Dire water shortages

All have their base in climate change or something bad that humans are doing to the environment. You have seen the scale of the problems, what and who they affect, and maybe a little bit about how the problems are solved.


But in my humble opinion, the one main problem that covers everything is that people do not really know just how priceless water is.


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