Overfished and under-protected: oceans on the brink of catastrophic collapse

As the human footprint has spread, the remaining wildernesses on our planet have retreated. However, dive just a few meters below the ocean surface and you will enter a world where humans very rarely venture.

In many ways, it is the forgotten world on Earth. A ridiculous thought when you consider that oceans make up 90% of the living volume of the planet and are home to more than one million species, ranging from the largest animal on the planet — the blue whale — to one of the weirdest — the blobfish.

Acid test for marine species

At the same time fisheries and vital marine ecosystems like coral are being decimated, the oceans continue to provide vital services, absorbing up to one third of human carbon dioxide emissions while producing 50% of all the oxygen we breathe.

But absorbing increasing quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) has come at a cost, increasing the acidity of the water.

“The two worst things in my mind happening to oceans are global warming and ocean acidification,” says O’Dor, “They’re going to have terrible effects on coral reefs. Because of acidification essentially, the coral can’t grow and it’s going to dissolve away.”

The ocean has become 30% more acidic since the start of The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and is predicted to be 150% more acidic by the end of this century, according to a UNESCO report published last year.

“There’s a coral reef off Norway that was discovered in 2007 and it’s likely to be dead by 2020,” says O’Dor.

“The problem is that the acidification is worse near the Poles because low temperature water dissolves more acid. Starting from the Pole and working south these reefs are going to suffer extensively.”

Currents estimates suggest 30% of coral reefs will be endangered by 2050, says O’Dor, because of the effects of ocean acidification and global warming.

Higher acidity also disrupts marine organisms’ ability to grow, reproduce and respire. The Census of Marine Life reported that phytoplankton, the microscopic plants producing most of the oxygen from the oceans, have been declining by around 1% a year since 1900.

Tom Levitt, CNN, 22 March 2013. Full article.

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