Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says

A dead whale in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2011. As container ships multiply, more whales are being harmed, a study said. Credit Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A dead whale in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2011. As container ships multiply, more whales are being harmed, a study said. Credit Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Carl Zimmer, New York Times

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

“We’re lucky in many ways,” said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. “The impacts are accelerating, but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.”

Scientific assessments of the oceans’ health are dogged by uncertainty: It’s much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.

Transplanted coral off Java Island, Indonesia. Great damage results from the loss of habitats like coral reefs, an analysis found. Credit Aman Rochman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Transplanted coral off Java Island, Indonesia. Great damage results from the loss of habitats like coral reefs, an analysis found. Credit Aman Rochman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way.

A number of experts said the result was a remarkable synthesis, along with a nuanced and encouraging prognosis.

“I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea,” said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved in the study.

There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested, but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely to accelerate as technology advances the human footprint, the scientists reported.

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

 Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20 million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble. Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.

Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea.

The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have wrecked the seas before. “Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large scale,” she said.

Until now, the seas largely have been spared the carnage visited on terrestrial species, the new analysis also found.

The fossil record indicates that a number of large animal species became extinct as humans arrived on continents and islands. For example, the moa, a giant bird that once lived on New Zealand, was wiped out by arriving Polynesians in the 1300s, probably within a century.

But it was only after 1800, with the Industrial Revolution, that extinctions on land really accelerated.

Humans began to alter the habitat that wildlife depended on, wiping out forests for timber, plowing under prairie for farmland, and laying down roads and railroads across continents.

Species began going extinct at a much faster pace. Over the past five centuries, researchers have recorded 514 animal extinctions on land. But the authors of the new study found that documented extinctions are far rarer in the ocean.

Before 1500, a few species of seabirds are known to have vanished. Since then, scientists have documented only 15 ocean extinctions, including animals such as the Caribbean monk seal and the Steller’s sea cow.

While these figures are likely underestimates, Dr. McCauley said that the difference was nonetheless revealing.

“Fundamentally, we’re a terrestrial predator,” he said. “It’s hard for an ape to drive something in the ocean extinct.”

Many marine species that have become extinct or are endangered depend on land — seabirds that nest on cliffs, for example, or sea turtles that lay eggs on beaches.

Still, there is time for humans to halt the damage, Dr. McCauley said, with effective programs limiting the exploitation of the oceans. The tiger may not be salvageable in the wild — but the tiger shark may well be, he said.

“There are a lot of tools we can use,” he said. “We better pick them up and use them seriously.”

Dr. McCauley and his colleagues argue that limiting the industrialization of the oceans to some regions could allow threatened species to recover in other ones. “I fervently believe that our best partner in saving the ocean is the ocean itself,” said Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, an author of the new study.

The scientists also argued that these reserves had to be designed with climate change in mind, so that species escaping high temperatures or low pH would be able to find refuge.

“It’s creating a hopscotch pattern up and down the coasts to help these species adapt,” Dr. Pinsky said.

Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.

“If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean,” he said. “But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple decades more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”

Mother Earth is Drowning in Garbage

AP/5 GYRESIn this February 15, 2010 photo released by 5 Gyres, a coastal area of the Azores Islands in Portugal, is shown littered with plastic garbage.
In this February 15, 2010 photo released by 5 Gyres, a coastal area of the Azores Islands in Portugal, is shown littered with plastic garbage.

“Thus he learned that there are spirits in the water – that water is life.” – Wichita Legend of the Water Spirit


The tragedy of Malaysian flight 370, which disappeared en route to China, has brought attention to a distressing fact about our “civilized” society, that we are now drowning in our own garbage. For a full month, searchers have had to comb through an ocean full of waste, making an already extremely difficult task almost impossible. On March 8, the day after the plane was scheduled to land in Beijing, Vietnamese air force planes spotted two massive oil slicks, each between six and nine miles long, that were at first assumed to have been caused by the airliner, but when sampled turned out to be bunker oil for ships. The next day, the Vietnamese also spotted what they thought was a life raft and a door from the plane, but those items turned out to be floating junk.

Two days later, the Chinese reported that their satellites had spotted debris from the plane in the South China Sea, between Malaysia and Vietnam, but this too turned out to be more floating garbage. As the search shifted to the southern Indian Ocean, one of the most isolated and inhospitable regions on earth, satellites from several countries began to spot hundreds of objects, but all turned out to be floating waste. The amount of garbage in the oceans is so great and widespread that it was throwing off the search and rescue teams, and in the end they were forced to focus on analyzing the radar and electronic signals to narrow down the search area.

The pollution of the oceans, and of all water, is a serious threat to our well-being, for water, as indigenous people know well, is the essence of life. Yet civilized society has an almost complete disregard for clean water. Cholera, a disease unknown in the Americas before European settlement, derives from contaminated water. As the pioneers traveled westward, using rivers, streams and lakes as toilets (while at the same time drinking from them), the now contaminated waters killed countless Indians and nearly wiped out entire tribes, such as the Comanche, Hidatsa and Choctaw. More than 150,000 Americans are also believed to have died in the pandemics of 1832 and 1849, including former President James Polk. Due to cholera, Chicago had one of the highest death rates in the world between 1885 and 1890, losing more than 12 percent of its population.

Nor has time made civilized society any wiser. Up until 1970s, with the advent of clean water legislation in the U.S., the average American city sewage treatment plant consisted of a long pipe into the ocean, or lacking a nearby ocean, a lake or a river. It was also common to dump household garbage in the oceans or lakes. New York City dumped more than a million tons of garbage a year in the New York Bight, creating the first ocean “garbage patch.” An article in Indian Country Today Media Network one year ago, entitled, “Lake Erie has a Garbage Patch That Rivals the Oceans,” found that much more needs to be done to preserve Americas water.

RELATED: Lake Erie has a Garbage Patch That Rivals the Oceans

Despite some strides in America to maintain clean water, other countries have done little. More than 818 million people in India and 607 million people in China have no sewage facilities at all.

Much of the debris floating in the oceans is plastic, which degrades extremely slowly and eventually becomes toxic to marine life. A 2006 United Nations Environment report estimated that every square kilometer of world’s ocean has an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on the surface. In the most polluted garbage patches, located in every ocean, the mass of plastic is greater than that of plankton, the algae upon which all oceanic life depends (the grass of the oceans), sometime by an order of five to six times. Experts believe that virtually every fish, sea turtle, or seabird now has plastic inside of it. Not only are the plastics toxic in themselves, they act like sponges, soaking up other toxins in the oceans. When devoured, the toxins work their way up the food chain, eventually impacting human health.

Parasitic diseases similar to cholera are now spreading to marine mammals such as killer whales, as the ocean waters become filled with human and animal excrement. Yet little is being done to combat this menace. The last international agreement concerning ocean dumping and pollution was a protocol signed in 1996, however it was not ratified by the U.S., nor has it been ratified by enough countries (there must be at least 26) to come into force. The last international marine debris conference, held 2011 in Honolulu, ended with no concrete program for international action.

It was long presumed that dumping in the ocean meant that pollution was out of sight, and thus could be ignored. But now the chickens, or their byproducts, are coming back to haunt our modern society. The search for Flight 370 may not have found the plane yet, but it may have discovered something far more important, and far more tragic.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/04/10/mother-earth-drowning-garbage-154388?page=0%2C1



Tell Congress to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership

Source: Grassroots International

The emphasis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be on the influx of the cheapest goods and services and the promotion of transnational corporate profits, regardless of costs to the environment, communities or human lives. This will affect food, fishing, agriculture, energy extraction, retail goods, banking – literally all sectors of our lives.

Yet after three years of discussion, negotiators still refuse to tell the public what’s being proposed. While secrecy is the rule when it comes to the public, hundreds of corporate lobbyists have “cleared advisor” status granting them access to the text. Even more concerning, is that the U.S. trade representative is pushing to “fast track” the agreement.

Will you join Grassroots International, our Global South partners, and our allies in the US Food Sovereignty Alliance in saying “No!” to the TPP and the fast track?

Together we can stop the one of the most destructive, secret, corporate-driven policies of the decade.

Sign the petition here