The tragedy of the oceans: How bad is it?

Every time a page turns on the saga of the world’s oceans, the story gets more hair-raising. Now, according to an international report released this week, the large fish remaining out there are going hungry because we’re wiping out their prey fish in an accelerating race to nowhere.

Add to that picture the proliferation of huge oxygen-starved oceanic “dead zones” caused by a combination of pollution and rising temperatures (over 400 and counting, up by a third in only the last couple of years), acidification of the seas leading to destruction of the coral reefs and other noxious effects, plus vast algae blooms, and the story is on the verge of being a full-blown horror show.


Overfishing is not the thing that unnerves scientists the most, however. That honour goes to the acidification of the oceans, thanks to the carbon falling into them from our pollution. Recognized since the 1950s, it’s happening at an increasing clip. This acidity inhibits organisms that have calcium carbonate shells. Already, it’s affecting corals worldwide. However, phytoplankton, the base of the food chain, also has such a shell. If that goes, the whole web of ocean life collapses, and so goes the ocean’s capacity to produce half the oxygen that we breathe.

Can we possibly have brought the world to this in a mere 50 years? Is there any slack here at all? Indeed, are we, already distracted by wars and economic crises, even capable of recognizing the monstrosity looking back at us in the mirror that we mistook for the handsome face of progress?

Ralph Surette, The Chronicle Herald, 7 March 2009. Full article.

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