Many articles and blogs are surfacing of recent; following research presented from the International Program on the State of the Ocean. In short, 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats and future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues. The harsh reality is that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species never before seen in human history. They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.
For starters, take a look at the picture below. The common expression often used in England is that there are “plenty more fish in the sea”, but in reality, is this really the case? In this chart, taken from an article called ‘we have eaten all the fish in the sea’ published by Business Insider, the authors took a look at annual catches of popular North Atlantic fish over the past half-century, and estimated the change in fish populations over the last hundred years.
As you can see, the results are staggering. Heavy overfishing has dramatically reduced vast percentages of the amount of fish, and even areas once literally teeming with fish have now been reduced to next to nothing.
“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised” Alex Rodgers
In total, more than half of the world’s reefs are threatened by the ways in which fishermen use them. Tackling issues such as fishing and pollution can keep reefs healthy, but only for the time being. These range from simply catching more than nature can replace to the use of extremely damaging fishing methods such as dynamiting fish to stun or kill them, which in turn blasts coral formations to smithereens. Other major threats are pollution carried in rivers, coastal development, and climate change. If climate projections turn into reality, then by 2030 roughly half of the world’s reefs will experience bleaching in most years – rising to 95% during the 2050s.
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 order to try and and combat the problems at hand, the IPSO advise taking immediate action on points including:
- 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, ways of pulling the gas out of the atmosphere need to be researched urgently. These techniques need to be developed without using techniques, such as iron fertilisation, that lead to more CO2 entering the oceans.
“The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast; but unlike previous generations, we know what now needs to happen” Dan Laffoley
This post is also available in: German