Can We Stop Before We Push the Ocean’s Wildlife to the Brink?  


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January 22, 2015 2:07 pm  

Can We Stop Before We Push the Ocean’s Wildlife to the Brink?
Alicia Graef
Jan 21, 2015

Although there have been far more losses when it comes to wildlife on land, scientists are warning that the world’s oceans are now facing a “wildlife Armageddon” that won’t stop if we continue to exploit marine resources at the rate we’re currently going.

In a new study just published in the journal Science, researchers synthesized data from numerous sources and concluded that we’re on the same path with our oceans that we were on land with the Industrial Revolution.

The group of scientists behind the study are now raising concerns that over the past 500 years, development has led to the loss of hundreds of terrestrial species, while only 15 marine species have been confirmed by the IUCN to have disappeared over that time period. Now they believe the world’s oceans are as healthy as the land was hundreds of years ago, but that if we continue on the path we’re on, things will drastically change for the worse.

“All signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution,” said Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara and lead author of the study. “We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land.”

Scientists are worried about how defaunation, or the total loss of species from an area, will ripple through food webs and alter ecosystem functions. Even though there have been fewer extinctions, we’re already seeing losses and drastic declines in many species: populations of sharks are plummeting, coral reefs are in trouble, we’ve overfished bluefin tuna.

With industrialized fishing, trawling, aquaculture, energy exploration, pollution and war games, among other things, we’re increasingly inserting ourselves into marine ecosystems with activities that could push them and the species who call them home to the brink.

“There are factory farms in the sea and cattle-ranch-style feed lots for tuna,” explained co-author Steve Palumbi of Stanford University. “Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest. Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold-rush-like fervor, and 300-ton ocean mining machines and 750-foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work.”

Along with our actions that directly impact marine ecosystems, scientists also warn that the world’s oceans are facing two other major threats: climate change and ocean acidification.

It seems like marine life is doomed, but the scientists also point out that we can take what we’ve learned on land and start making effective changes now to safeguard the oceans from being annihilated.

They hope to see the creation of more Marine Protected Areas — less than three percent of the global ocean is currently protected — but still warn that those might not be enough. Research professor at UCSB and co-author of the study Robert Warner added that we’ll still need effective policies in place to limit damage in other unprotected areas, stating ”We can blunder forward and make the same mistakes in the sea that we made on land, or we can collectively chart a different and better future for our oceans.”

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