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Blue Crush: The Sea Could Save Us

Coral Reef

The ocean may be our best hope in fighting the climate crisis — but it needs our help.

(CNN) --Due to its vast expanse, the ocean is able to capture at least 25 percent of the carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere.

The underwater world beneath the waves can trap carbon for thousands, and perhaps even millions, of years. This "blue carbon" is far more efficient than the carbon captured by plants and trees.

But such an impressive capacity can't be expected to continue without protecting the sea itself, said experts participating in CNN's Call to Earth Day on Thursday. Scientists suggest preventing fishing and mining in large areas of the ocean, restoring ecosystems like coral reefs and preventing pollution from entering waterways.

If the warming ocean in its current state is able to do its part in saving the planet, a healthier ocean could make an even greater impact, experts believe.

Ocean secrets

The ocean is full of hope. Just ask the Queen of the Deep herself, Sylvia Earle.

The 87-year-old oceanographer has spent much of her life exploring the ocean and still holds the world record for the deepest untethered walk on the seafloor.

"Every time I go into the water, I see things I've never seen before," she said.

Her Mission Blue program, which supports research and restoration of the ocean, has identified more than 140 marine areas around the world that are critical in revitalizing the ocean. Designated as Hope Spots, these special sites are guarded by local communities and institutions.

Wild kingdom

Gray nurse sharks might appear menacing with their ragged, needle-like teeth, but a 16-year-old marine conservationist from Port Macquarie in Australia would beg to differ.

"They're so docile and so curious," said Shalise Leesfield, who's working to protect the critically endangered species. "They're like the Labradors of the sea."

The slow-moving sharks, which feed on stingrays, urchins and other bottom dwellers, still inhabit Fish Rock, a colorful, coral-filled underwater cavern off the coast of South West Rocks, 40 miles (64 kilometers) up the coast from her home. Thanks to Leesfield, the cave ecosystem has been nominated as a Hope Spot.

She aims to establish a sanctuary zone to ensure that the sharks, which are largely harmless to humans, can continue to breed and survive.

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Ashley Strickland, Cnn