Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The State of Our Oceans: We are Headed Towards a Marine Mass Extinction

Oceans are the defining feature of our planet and they are indispensable to life. People are also intimately connected to oceans whether we live inland or on the coast. The world/s oceans are an essential part of life on Earth, they generate most of the oxygen we breathe, they provide valuable sources of food and they regulate our climate.

One of the greatest threats to oceans comes from acidification. According to 2012 research from the University of Bristol, ocean acidification is occurring at unprecedented rates. This is mainly due to the absorption of carbon dioxide emitted by humans.

Acidification is killing coral which provides the habitat for one quarter of all marine species. There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected by 2050.

The oceans are under threat. We have fished out 90 percent of the ocean's big fish. Government subsidies in the fishing industry amount to about $27 billion a year and have created excess capacity and depleted fish stocks globally.

Humans are also responsible for a wide assortment of pollutants from oil spill to plastic waste and we have created coastal dead zones from agriculture.

The knowledge that humans are destroying the marine environment is not new. A 2011 report  released by an international panel of interdisciplinary marine scientists on behalf of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans (IPSO) clearly makes the point that we are headed towards a marine mass extinction on a scale unprecedented in human history.

The IPSO study is corroborated by many other studies which demonstrate that the ocean is under severe threat, including disappearing coral reefs, rapidly increasing acidification, and growing incidences of marine life extinctions.

A 2011 report indicates that
  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the ocean and are now causing increased hypoxia (low oxygen) Studies of the Earth’s past indicate these three symptoms (warming, acidification, hypoxia) indicate “disturbances of the carbon cycle” associated with all five previous mass extinctions on Earth. The rate of carbon absorption by the ocean is already far greater than what it was at the time of the last globally significant marine mass extinction when up to half of some marine deep-sea species where wiped out.
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from the IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.
  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood.
  • Timelines for action are shrinking. The longer we take to get serious about reducing carbon emissions, the more it will cost and the harder it will be to effectively make meaningful reductions. In the meantime, environmental damage will accrue causing greater socioeconomic impacts. The problem isn’t going away.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution, and habitat destruction.
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors Among those stressors are chemical pollutants, overfishing, agricultural runoff, and sediment loads.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.
As stated by the David Suzuki Foundation,

"What this study also shows is that we cannot look at ecosystems, species, and environmental problems in isolation. This research points out that the combined impacts of all the stressors are far more severe than what scientists might conclude by looking at individual problems...Further delay in resolving these serious problems will only increase costs and lead to even greater losses of the natural benefits oceans give to us. "

The IPSO report urges that we change the ways that we relate to the ocean, it further advocates the adoption of a “holistic approach to sustainable management of all activities that impinge marine ecosystems....This has to be part of a wider re-evaluation of the core values of human society and its relationship to the natural world and the resources on which we all rely.”

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