If the Ocean goes down, it's game over
—Alex Rogers, from stateoftheocean.org
Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. [kneels]
Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like ... Victory
Kilgore: Someday this war's gonna end...
— Apocalypse Now
On the heels of my three part series last week (part I, part II, part III) on what Daniel Pauly calls The Aquacalypse, a number of readers sent me e-mails yesterday alerting me to a new report on the State of The Oceans. The news is not good.
A high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.
The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.
The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.
To say what is happening is unprecedented in human history is an understatement meant for public consumption. The human species is only 200,000 years old. Only paleontologists, paleoclimatologists and others immersed in Deep Time (millions upon millions of years) can truly appreciate what is happening.
We are watching a sixth mass extinction take place in the oceans. There have been five "mass" extinctions in the Phanerozoic Eon (the time after the very long Pre-Cambrian), which began 542 million years ago. The last one occurred when an asteroid wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs and wreaked havoc on other Earth life 65 million years ago—~70% of species perished. (If some mammals hadn't survived the holocaust, we wouldn't be here.) It is thought that the closest analogue in Deep Time to what is happening now (in terms of rapidity) occurred 55.9 million years ago during the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). From the workshop press release—
The scientific panel concluded that:
- The combination of stressors on the ocean is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history
- The speed and rate of degeneration in the ocean is far faster than anyone has predicted.
- Many of the negative impacts previously identified are greater than the worst predictions [heretofore]
- Although difficult to assess because of the unprecedented speed of change, the first steps to globally signficant extinction may have begun with a rise in the extinction threat to marine species such as reef-forming corals.
Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) which convened the workshop said: "The findings are shocking."
"As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that..."
As examples, the panel point out:
The experts agreed that adding these and other threats together means that the ocean and the ecosystems within it are unable to recover, being constantly bombarded with multiple attacks.
- the rate at which carbon is being absorbed by the ocean is already far greater now than at the time of the last globally significant extinction of marine species, some 55 million years ago [the PETM], when up to 50% of some groups of deep-sea [benthic] animals were wiped out
- a single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16% of the all the world's tropical coral reefs
- overfishing has reduced some commerical fish stocks and populations of by-catch species by more than 90%
- new science also suggests that pollutants including flame retardant chemicals and synthetic musks found in detergents are being traced in the Polar Seas, and that these chemicals can be absorbed by the tiny plastic particles in the ocean which are in turn ingested by marine creatures
So, let me ask you this. After reading this press release, do you still think it matters whether Obama or some Republican is elected president in 2012? Why not vote for Bozo the Clown?
In my own latest series of articles on the destruction of life in the oceans, I focused on overfishing because there the human impact on marine species is too obvious to ignore. In reality, there are multiple environmental insults (stressors) deleterious to life in the oceans in play, as the IPSO workshop results make clear. The point of the meeting was to assess the effects of all the human-caused factors taken together. We find them in the longer version of the workshop summary. Here's a sample:
The key points needed to drive a common sense rethink are:
Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia [oxygen depletion].
Studies of the Earth's past indicate that these are three symptoms that indicate disturbances of the carbon cycle associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions.
[And see my post on acidification The "Other" Carbon Problem — Ocean Acidification.]
The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or tracking worst-case scenarios from the IPCC and other predictions...
... The 'worst case' effects [of climate change] are compounding other changes more consistent with predictions including: changes in the distribution and abundance of marine species; changes in primary production; changes in the distribution of harmful algal blooms; increases in health hazards in the oceans; and loss of both large, long-lived and small fish species causing widespread impacts on marine ecosystems, including direct impacts on predator and prey species, the simplification and destabilization of food webs, reduction of resilience to the effects of climate change.
Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors.
Stressors include chemical pollutants, agricultural run-off, sediment loads, and over-extraction of many components of food webs which singly and together severely impair the functioning of ecosystems. Consequences include the potential increase of harmful algal blooms in recent decades; the spread of oxygen depleted or dead zones; the disturbance of the structure and functioning of marine food webs, to the benefit of planktonic organisms of low nutritional value, such as jellyfish or other gelatinous-like organisms; dramatic changes in the microbial communities with negative impacts at the ecosystem-scale...
The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.
The main causes of extinctions of marine species to date are over-exploitation and habitat loss. However, climate change is increasingly adding to this, as evidenced by the recent IUNC Red List Assessment of reef-forming corals. Some other species ranges have already extended or shifted pole-wards and into deeper cooler waters...
These conclusions are framed in the language of science, which is simply so much gibberish—an incomprehensible foreign language—to the vast majority of Americans, who often take inordinate pride in knowing nothing. As if that weren't bad enough, the most astonishing thing is that most Americans believe they are entitled to an opinion on scientific matters they no nothing about as if they were political issues like taxing the wealthy or the paring down the public debt. Jesus wept.
So let me restate these conclusions for all those living in The State of Denial—the hopelessly obtuse, the cheerfully oblivious, and the blissfully ignorant.
Marine ecosystems and the inhabitants thereof don't give a fuck about your obtuseness, your oblivion and your ignorance. Your narrow-minded, petty, self-serving, mean-spirited squabbles mean nothing to them. Those creatures dwelling in the ocean are too busy swimming for their lives. They're too busy dying off from causes they could not possibly begin to comprehend.
Someday this war's gonna end...
Those of you who read my Learning From The Aquacalypse know how I view the possibility of a mass extinction in the Earth's oceans—it is all but inevitable. There's no reason for me to rehash that view here. I saw from some of the comments on that post that my views on Human Nature were quite upsetting to some of you. Sorry about that. I just thought you might like to know what you're dealing with.
Here's the workshop summary video. You can find other videos at the State Of The Oceans channel on youtube.