I heard Professor Rogers on the radio this morning and was left feeling as bleak as all hell. This is pretty serious stuff. When someone talks about changes that are almost certainly going to happen in our lifetime… you know things are hotting up. The startling reality is that my son may grow up to be an adult in a world where there simply are NO MORE coral reefs…and that’s not all…
The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists that included coral reef ecologists, toxicologists and fisheries scientists. In a recent report, these top scientists paint a rather bleak picture of ocean life that is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.
Over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognized and the impacts are already affecting humanity.
The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).
“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University. “We’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years.”These “accelerated” changes include melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, sea level rise, and release of methane trapped in the sea bed.
Some pollutants, for example, stick to the surfaces of tiny plastic particles that are now found in the ocean bed. This increases the amounts of these pollutants that are consumed by bottom-feeding fish.
Plastic particles also assist the transport of algae from place to place, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms – which are also caused by the influx of nutrient-rich pollution from agricultural land.
In a wider sense, ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs – so much so that three-quarters of the world’s reefs are at risk of severe decline.
“We’ve still got most of the world’s biodiversity, but the actual rate of extinction is much higher [than in past events] – and what we face is certainly a globally significant extinction event.”
IPSO’s immediate recommendations include:
• stopping exploitative fishing now, with special emphasis on the high seas where currently there is little effective regulation
• mapping and then reducing the input of pollutants including plastics, agricultural fertilisers and human waste
• making sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide levels are now so high, it says, that ways of pulling the gas out of the atmosphere need to be researched urgently – but not using techniques, such as iron fertilisation, that lead to more CO2 entering the oceans.
“If we don’t bring CO2 emissions down to zero within about 20 years, we’re going to see steady acidification of the seas, heat events that are wiping out things like kelp forests and coral reefs, and we’ll see a very different ocean.”
“The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now.”
Abridged version of article by Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
Photo – NASA