(This is part one of a two-part series on a report regarding the dismal state of our oceans. Part two of the series tackles the situation’s repercussions on humans and what we can do to help our oceans recover.)
A team of marine experts announced this week a new summary report arguing that climate change and other man-made factors will spur colossal levels of extinction in the world’s oceans. The catastrophe is forecasted to be “unprecedented in human history.”
The proverbial excrement, it seems, is about to hit the fan.
Not surprisingly, it appears that changes in our atmosphere, ecosystems, and habitats across the planet are accelerating too quickly for many species to adapt and be able to survive.
“The speed of change, particularly related to climate change, is so great there simply isn’t time for marine life to adapt to these new conditions,” said Alex Rogers, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford.
He explained that mass extinctions have been tied to considerable changes in the oceans’ carbon systems in the past.
“That’s what we’re bringing about through our own actions today,” he noted, reports ABC News.
Rogers and a team of 26 other researchers from various countries met earlier this year for a three-day workshop in England to study ocean stressors. Their full report is set to be published in the near future.
Ocean stressors at play
Ocean acidification is one key factor. Here’s what it’s about: carbon dioxide (CO2) (along with methane and other gasses) plays a huge role in heating up our planet and thereby causing climate change, which includes melting polar ice caps and rising ocean levels. Okay. What you might not know is that one-third of the planet’s CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, and that the more CO2 the ocean absorbs, the greater the waters’ acidity. This phenomenon is called ocean acidification and it’s noxious to our planet for many reasons. For example, rising acidity levels in our oceans have been found to:
- Impair fish hearing and smell, putting their survival in danger
- Kill off endangered species such as northern abalone
- Threaten the survival of krill, itself the basic food source of nearly all animals in the ocean
Apart from ocean acidification, rising water temperatures, overfishing, pollution, and even tourism are all exacerbating the rapid decline of species such as reef-forming coral. (Go here, here, and here for more on the state of coral reefs.)
Sharks and other species may be next, warned Rogers, lead author of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) report.
Further, he said that, in many cases, the impacts of ocean stressors were found to have a greater overall effect than any single effect when taken together. For example, the decline of coral reef ecosystems due to overfishing and reef bleaching, plus the acidification that causes bleaching, will eradicate “the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet.”
“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”
Stay tuned for part two of this 2-part series.