Striving to stave off marine extinctions

Although oceans cover 73 percent of the surface of the Earth, little is known about marine plant and animal biodiversity.

To learn more about their future prospects for this special coverage of COP10 in Nagoya, The Japan Times spoke with Francois Simard, an expert on ocean fisheries at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest and oldest global environmental network.

What are the major threats to ocean biodiversity?

The threats to the oceans fall into two general categories. The first includes overfishing, illegal fishing and similar causes of species loss for fisheries, what we call “unreported and unregulated catches.”

Also in the first category are marine pollution and the disruption of coastal ecosystems by ships that enter ports and release ballast water containing alien species.

Another problem is terrestrial pollution that is borne by rivers that lead to the sea.

We have developed many tools to fight these kinds of threats.

However, there is a second category that may be even more important, and that is the effects of climate change, and particularly ocean acidification.

Marine absorption of rising emissions of carbon dioxide is causing the pH level of sea water to decline and it is becoming increasingly acidic. Many kinds of sea life form shells, and we have learned that acidification may disrupt shell calcification or dissolve shells.

Although we don’t know what the exact impacts will be, some scenarios suggest that if this should worsen it will be the end of all shellfish, and the end of the sea as we know it.

Jane Singer, The Japan Times, 24 October 2010. Full article.

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