State of the Ocean The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) has issued a preliminary report which is shocking and disturbing. IPSO stated:
● A high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.
● The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats – and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.
● Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.
● Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia.
● The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst case scenarios from 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.
● 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.
● The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.
Report Conclusion The participants concluded that not only are we already experiencing severe declines in many species to the point of commercial extinction in some cases, and an unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of habitat types (eg mangroves and seagrass meadows), but we now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high intensity stressors has been a prerequisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years (Barnosky et al., 2009).
Is It Really Possible A Mass Extinction Could Happen? In the video below, Dr. Alex Rogers provides an overview of the State of the Ocean report. “I think if we continue on the current trajectory, we are looking at a mass extinction of marine species”, says Dr. Rogers. He further states that it looks like coral reef systems “will go down” by the end of the century and this would constitute a “mass extinction event”. Up to 9 million species are associated with just coral reefs. However, the problems with the world’s oceans are much larger than the coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures are affecting all marine species. Ocean acidification via agricultural fertilizers and sewage is another stressor and is also causing detrimental and large algae blooms. Consequently there is a spreading of dead zones in the world’s oceans.
How Does This Damage Affect Human Life? Dr. Rogers continues that the poor management of fisheries reduces the harvest for humans. “We are actually extracting far too much fish, we are damaging the environment they live in, and we are removing keystone species (top predators) We are causing profound changes in the way many of these ecosystems are operating”. These damaged ecosystems then become “far less able to cope with shocks and they become less stable”. In addition, the effects of climate change have been impacting the oceans since the late 1970s (e.g. coral bleaching). “We are already there”, he states, and this requires “global action”. Overfishing is a critical problem.
What’s The Advice, Stop Eating Fish? Dr. Rogers says, “I would hate to advise anyone to stop eating fish. It is a fantastic source of protein, IF it is harvested in a sustainable way. Many of the fish we see for sale are not harvested in a sustainable way and I certainly couldn’t recommend eating.” Sustainable doesn’t mean only regarding that specie’s population, but also how it is caught (the bycatch is very large and/or the catching method damages the marine environment.
What Cause For Optimism, Is A Sea Change Possible? Dr. Rogers thinks a “sea change” is possible. He thinks “people are starting to realize what is going on in the ocean is not just unsustainable, not just leading to serious degradation, but is actually morally corrupt”. “I think that people recognize that to go in, take the resources from a system, and destroy that system effectively or destroy the resource, is not an acceptable way to behave in the modern world, where we are potentially facing a very high human population and we really need as much food as we can get”.
State of the Ocean: An Overview Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, gives the overview of the main problems affecting the ocean — and some suggested solutions. For more information visit http://www.stateoftheocean.org/
IPSO’s consortium of marine scientists and experts believes that we have a narrow window of opportunity in which to prevent the decline and collapse of the Earth’s Ocean system. By doing so, we will give ourselves and future generations the best chance of survival.
Given the devastating effects of climate change on the Ocean, it is imperative that we minimize these and all other human-induced stressors as soon as possible. Our recommendations for doing so are outlined in the report.