According to an international panel of marine experts called together by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, or IPSO for short, the world’s oceans are at high risk of entering a phase of marine species extinction the likes of which have never been seen in human history.
The panel, after looking at the latest research across all areas of marine science, and examining the combined effects of pollution, acidification, ocean warming, over fishing and hypoxia, concluded that;
- the combination of stressors on the ocean is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction in Earth’s history
- the speed and rate of degeneration in the ocean is far faster than anyone has predicted
- Many of the negative impacts previously identified are greater than the worst predictions
- although difficult to assess because of the unprecedented speed of change, the first steps to globally significant extinction may have begun with a rise in the extinction threat to marine species such as reef-forming corals
“The findings are shocking,” says Dr Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”
A summary of the report is available in long and short forms, and the report is also accompanied by four case studies, which I will provide below. For more information, a press release regarding the panels findings, and more videos from the panelists, head on over to State of the Ocean.
Case Study 1:
The potentially deadly trio of factors — warming, acidification and anoxia — affecting today’s oceans, by Professor Jelle Bijma, Marine Biogeosciences, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Watch his explanation, beginning with the growing problem of anoxia, or dead zones, in the ocean.
In Brief: Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of global carbon perturbations (global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen; e.g. Veron, 2008).
It is these three factors — the ‘deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the current carbon perturbation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change. Acidification is occurring faster than in the past 55 million years, and with the added man-made stressors of overfishing and pollution, undermining ocean resilience.
Case Study 2:
End of paradise: Coral reefs facing multiple attacks, by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg , Director, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland
In Brief: What the multi-disciplinary approach of the IPSO workshop made clear for the first time was the multiple threats reefs are facing, that are now acting together to have a greater impact than if they were occurring on their own.
This suggests that existing scientific projections of how coral reefs will respond to global warming have been highly conservative and must now be modified.
Case Study 3:
Pollution and Marine Species: new challenges of an old problem by Professor Tom Hutchinson, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
In Brief: Continued releases and slow breakdown rates mean that legacy chemical pollution ( such as from DDT) remains a major concern. However, concerns have been raised recently over a wide range of novel chemicals now being found in marine ecosystems or suspected to be harmful to marine life. High-profile examples include brominated flame retardants, fluorinated compounds, pharmaceuticals and synthetic musks used in detergents and personal care products.
Some of these chemicals have been located recently in the Canadian Arctic seas, and some are known to be endocrine disrupters or can damage immune systems. Marine litter and plastics are also of major concern, and there is evidence that certain plastics can transport other harmful chemicals in the marine environment.
Case Study 4:
Vanishing Resource: The Tale of the Chinese Bahaba by Dr William Cheung, Lecturer in Marine Ecosystem Services, School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia
In Brief: Scientists at the IPSO meeting agreed that overfishing is exerting an intolerable pressure on ecosystems already under attack by the effects of acidification and warming, and other largely man-made ocean problems. A recent study showed that 63% of the assessed fish stocks worldwide are over-exploited or depleted and over half of them require further reduction of fishing, in order to recover.
The near extinction of a fish called Chinese bahaba (Bahaba taipingensis) is one of the many examples that highlight how overfishing threatens marine biodiversity. It has taken less than seventy years for this giant fish to become critically endangered after it was first described by scientists in the 1930s.