The cumulative impact of “severe individual stresses,” ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history.”
The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.
The report warned that damage to marine life would harm its ability to support humans, and that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction, according to study chief author Alex Rogers of Oxford University. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical coral reefs.
Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Program on the State of the Ocean, pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and called the situation “really unprecedented.”
Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce back from problems – such as oil spills – as they used to, scientists said.
“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.
The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce overfishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.
“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”
A separate study released Monday provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming. It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over decades. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article appeared on page A – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle