Photo: Lewis Burnett/Shutterstock

Study: Oceans at High Risk of Unprecedented Marine Extinctions

by Hal Amen Jun 20, 2011

LIFE IN OUR OCEANS is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.”

That’s according to a report, to be officially released this week, by a scientific panel under the auspices of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

For decades, marine experts have been aware of the declining health of ocean life. What this study seems to bring to the table is a more comprehensive view, with scientists of different areas of focus collaborating to uncover how various human-made threats — pollution, overfishing, climate change — may be affecting, and exacerbating, each other.

They’ve found that, in tandem, such factors are creating extinction scenarios that weren’t expected to occur for hundreds of years.

For instance, tiny bits of plastic refuse litter the ocean floor in some areas. This is a problem in itself, but pollutants then adhere to the plastic, building little chemical morsels that are ingested by bottom-feeding fish. The plastic also facilitates the spread of toxic algae produced by fertilizer-heavy farm runoff.

This is just one example of how the harm human activity is causing the oceans is snowballing into an environmental emergency.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is unprecedented in the fossil record – the environmental changes are much more rapid…. We’ve still got most of the world’s biodiversity, but the actual rate of extinction is much higher [than in past events] – and what we face is certainly a globally significant extinction event.

The major concern, though, is climate change.

We have to bring down CO2 emissions to zero within about 20 years…. If we don’t do that, we’re going to see steady acidification of the seas, heat events that are wiping out things like kelp forests and coral reefs, and we’ll see a very different ocean.

Read more from the BBC: World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline

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