The Next Great Extinction Crisis Is Under Way Under the Sea
Overfishing, pollution, and climate change have contributed to a devastating decline in marine life
17 September, 2015
Imagine the outcry if half the life on land had disappeared over the past 45 years.
That’s what has happened in the world’s oceans, according to a new report that finds that global populations of marine species have plummeted 49 percent since 1970.
Certain fish that people rely on for food suffered even steeper declines: Populations oftunas, bonitos, and mackerels dropped by 74 percent, according to the study, which was compiled by the World Wildlife Fund and reviewed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London.
By compiling data from 2,337 individual sources, including population estimates from scientific studies and databases, the researchers were able to estimate the changes in species populations from 1970 and 2012.
The scientists attributed the marine population crash to overfishing, habitat destruction, and climate change. In other words, the blame lies with us.
“This is catastrophic,” Louise Heaps, chief advisor on marine policy at WWF U.K., told The Guardian. “We are destroying vital food sources, and the ecology of our oceans.”
The report found that shark finning and industrial fishing have decimated shark and ray populations, with one in four species now threatened by extinction.
Other species suffering major declines include sea cucumbers, a luxury food item in Asia, where populations have fallen by 98 percent in the Galápagos and by 94 percent in the Egyptian Red Sea.
Sea cucumber. (Photo: Jeff Rotman/Getty Images)
The researchers linked industrial pollution and plastic contamination of the oceans with the degradation of marine habitats and the death of endangered sea turtles and other wildlife. The burning of fossil fuels is accelerating the acidification of the oceans, destroying coral reefs that sustain a plethora of fisheries as well as 400 million people.
The world’s coral reefs, which support 25 percent of marine species, could be wiped out if ocean temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, according to a 2011 report from the World Resources Institutes.
“This report spells a lot of bad news, however the good news is there are opportunities for world leaders to turn things around,” Brad Ack, senior vice president for oceans at WWF, said in an email.
Ack said nations need to shut down illegal fishing operations, protect remaining coral reefs, mangroves, and other critical marine habitat from development, and agree on cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at the Paris climate conference in December.
“The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively,” Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said in a statement. “If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems.”
Illegal gill nets snare baby sharks near the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. (Photo: Tui De Roy/Getty Images)
What seemed so apocalyptic yesterday seems so optimistic today
Half of all sea life ‘wiped out in last 50 years’
17 September, 2015
The number of marine creatures living on earth has halved in under 50 years, according to a new international report.
A recent study for the conservation charities WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) shows populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish in global oceans declined by 49 per cent between 1970 and 2012, with some near extinction.
This is a wake-up call, but it is also an opportunity
Robin Freeman, ZSL
The new “Living Blue Planet” report blames over-fishing as the main driver of the loss of ocean life, but says climate change is accelerating the decline.
Environmentalists are warning the large-scale disappearance of sea life is disastrous both for the health of the planet and for people across the world who depend on the ocean’s resources.
They say the latest findings highlight the devastating impact of human activities and are calling for urgent action to safeguard the planet for the future.
The report states: “For centuries people have regarded the ocean as an inexhaustible source of food and a convenient dumping ground, too vast to be affected by anything we do. But in the space of just a few decades it has become increasingly clear that the ocean has limits and that in many important parts of our seas the sustainability thresholds have been well and truly breached.”
It concludes that global warming is causing oceans to change more rapidly now than ever before, with rising temperatures and acidification further weakening a system already damaged by over-fishing, habitat degradation and pollution. It continues: “Driving all these trends are human actions: from over-fishing and extractive industries, to coastal development and pollution, to the greenhouse-gas emissions causing ocean acidification and sea temperature rise.”
The authors warn that all coral reefs could vanish by 2050 if oceans continue to warm at the current rate. With more than a quarter of all marine species living in coral reefs, the loss of these habitats would be catastrophic. The study shows the family of fish that includes tuna and mackerel has shrunk by 74 per cent, with bluefin and yellowfin of particular concern. There have been dramatic declines in species found in UK waters, including the vulnerable porbeagle shark and critically endangered leatherback turtle.
Steep drops in the cover of mangroves and seagrasses have also occurred.
But experts believe action can be taken to reverse the trend.
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “Our oceans and seas are some the most amazing parts of our planet, and this report is a stark reminder as to what would be at risk if we do not begin to turn things around.”
He said the creation of marine protected areas, where some damaging activities such as types of fishing are banned or limited, could play a key part in improving the health of the ocean.
Consumers can also ensure all seafood they eat is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, as well as reducing waste and litter that can end up in the seas.
“This is a wake-up call, but it is also an opportunity,” said Robin Freeman, head of indicators and assessments at ZSL.
Ocean fish numbers on 'brink of collapse': WWF
16 September, 2015
By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) – The amount of fish in the oceans has halved since 1970, in a plunge to the “brink of collapse” caused by over-fishing and other threats, the WWF conservation group said on Wednesday.
Populations of some commercial fish stocks, such as a group including tuna, mackerel and bonito, had fallen by almost 75 percent, according to a study by the WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, told Reuters mismanagement was pushing “the ocean to the brink of collapse”.
“There is a massive, massive decrease in species which are critical”, both for the ocean ecosystem and food security for billions of people, he said. “The ocean is resilient but there is a limit.”
The report said populations of fish, marine mammals, birds and reptiles had fallen 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. For fish alone, the decline was 50 percent.
The analysis said it tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, such as seals, turtles and dolphins and sharks. It said the ZSL data sets were almost twice as large as past studies.
“This report suggests that billions of animals have been lost from the world’s oceans in my lifetime alone,” Ken Norris, director of science at the ZSL, said in a statement. “This is a terrible and dangerous legacy to leave to our grandchildren.”
Damage to coral reefs and mangroves, which are nurseries for many fish, add to problems led by over-fishing. Other threats include coastal development, pollution and climate change, which is raising temperatures and making waters more acidic.
The study said the world’s fishing fleets were too big and supported by subsidies totaling $14-35 billion a year.
Later this month, governments are due to adopt new U.N. sustainable development goals, including ending over-fishing and destructive fishing practices by 2020 and restoring stocks “in the shortest time feasible”.
Closing fishing grounds and cracking down on illegal fishing gives stocks a chance to recover, Lambertini said. Some grounds, such as those off Fiji, have been revived by stronger protection.
World marine fish catches dipped to 79.7 million tonnes in 2012 from 82.6 million in 2011, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Safeguarding the oceans can help economic growth, curb poverty and raise food security, it says.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche)