Ocean Health Index saves SoCal waters

If our country had one, its “national beach” would be the stretch running  from Santa Barbara to San Diego, where the coastline not only defines the life  here but also is imbedded in our national psyche.

Yet it should come as no big surprise to anyone that, during the past 100  years, man has put a severe strain on the ocean. We have carelessly overfished  it, polluted it, dumped carbon dioxide into it, and heated it up. Perhaps the  fact that it covers more than 70 percent of the planet has allowed us to think  that the ocean has an infinite ability to absorb toxic runoff, billions of  pieces of plastic, 24 million tons of carbon dioxide a year and still somehow  miraculously heal itself, all the while providing us with valuable resources  ranging from food to medicines.

Dr. Chris Harrold, director of conservation research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, has been observing California’s  coastline up close since 1985. He cites two issues as the region’s biggest  problems, one very visible (overfishing) and the other nearly invisible  (acidification). “Many fish species are virtually absent from the Southern  California marine ecosystems,” says Harrold, “rendering them ecologically  extinct in the sense that they’re so rare, they no longer play a significant  role in marine ecosystems. This has gone on for so long and is so pervasive that  it’s hard to assess the impact. Unfortunately, no baseline data exists to show  us what the ocean off California’s coast looked like ‘before’ fishing impacts.  But we do know that removing predators from systems (and most commercially and  recreationally fished species are predators) has cascading ecological effects  throughout lower trophic levels.”

But to Harrold, ocean acidification—the rise in acidity due to  ever-increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 being added to the ocean thanks to our  continuing dependence on the burning of fossil fuels—is the bigger problem for  California’s coast. Though invisible to the eye, the way we are changing the  acidity level of the ocean “impacts a vast array of marine species that  construct calcium carbonate skeletons, including corals, sea urchins, starfish,  and many phytoplankton and zooplankton,” explains Harrold. “The big problem is  that we don’t know how marine ecosystems as a whole will respond to ocean  acidification. So we as a society are conducting a global, uncontrolled  experiment: We’re lowering the global ocean’s pH and now we’re going to see what  happens. One can only hope that the ecosystem services that the ocean provides,  such as seafood for human consumption, are not irreversibly harmed.”

To try and stem the tide of ocean abuse around the world, some of the  greatest minds in the science, conservation, and business worlds have combined  forces to come up with a way to encourage cleaning up some of the worst of the  ocean’s problems.

Jon Bowermaster, Los Angeles Confidential, December 2012 / January 2013. Full article.

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