Report says climate change hurting ocean life

A new report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warns that human activity is accelerating the decline of ocean life.

Fertilizer runoff is causing algal blooms, carbon emissions are warming the ocean and causing it to acidify and overfishing is endangering fish stocks throughout the world.

IPSO warns that these activities are creating the conditions for a mass extinction event sometime within this century.

The paper notes, “the scientific evidence that marine ecosystems are being degraded as a direct result of human activity is overwhelming,” and, perhaps most dramatically, states that the ocean’s acidity is the highest it has been in over 300 million years (IPSO).

Further, it claims that “[the ocean] has been shielding us from the worst effects of human climate change by absorbing excess CO₂ from the atmosphere.” This, in turn, is leading to acidification, warming and deoxygenation in the ocean, which places life in the ocean in grave danger.

Especially sensitive to these changes are the coral reefs, which are zones of immense biodiversity. According to a report on the IPSO review by The Guardian newspaper, “increased acidity dissolves the calcium carbonate skeletons that form the structure of reefs, and increasing temperatures lead to bleaching where the corals lose symbiotic algae they rely on.”

Coral reef destruction has serious implications for the huge variety of fish and other creatures that make their homes in coral reefs. A document from Stanford University states that one in four marine species makes its home in reefs, highlighting the severity of the risks that ecosystems face with rising temperatures and acidity.

The report recommends keeping atmospheric CO₂ concentrations below 450ppm through drastic cuts in output, improving legal and institutional frameworks for governing fisheries outside of national coastal zones and increasing sanctions on those who violate international restrictions on fishing.

According to the report, “the current system of high seas governance that tolerates the mismanagement and misappropriation of high seas living resources is placing our ocean in peril.”

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is hosting a discussion on the viability of human technology and systems to avoid this ecological crisis, and sounded generally optimistic.

Still, some participants, like Professor Callum Roberts of the University of York, noted the immensity of the barriers to achieving real progress. “What we need is obvious, though: strong laws and regulation to protect the integrity and productivity of marine life that are binding on all nations (not just those who opt in).

The world has grown too crowded to sustain the selfish pursuit of narrow national or business interests without regard for the impact on others,” he writes.

On the other hand, Judy Mann, the CEO of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, emphasizes the importance of hope and positive action: “Spreading doom and gloom hasn’t taken us away from where we’re headed. If we go with it we might as well join the polluters.”

Still, she said, “I see hope but as long as greed is overriding need, such as with foreign vessels in our waters, then we have an even bigger challenge” (BBC).

The need to maintain these ecosystems is only highlighted by the fact that, according to the Marine Stewardship Council, over 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein today.

Mass extinctions would threaten the critical resources necessary to sustain human life as it is now. Scientists have been increasingly urgent in their pleas for action, but so far the ecological problems have appeared intractable.