Posts tagged ‘Oceans’

‘Complete collapse’ of coral possible

Coral reefs are dying, and scientists and governments around the world are contemplating what will happen if they disappear altogether.

The idea positively scares them.

Coral reefs are part of the foundation of the ocean food chain. Nearly half the fish the world eats make their homes around them. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide — by some estimates, 1 billion across Asia alone — depend on them for their food and their livelihoods.

If the reefs vanished, experts say, hunger, poverty and political instability could ensue.

“Whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Numerous studies predict coral reefs are headed for extinction worldwide, largely because of global warming, pollution and coastal development, but also because of damage from bottom-dragging fishing boats and the international trade in jewelry and souvenirs made of coral.

At least 19 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already gone, including some 50 percent of those in the Caribbean. An additional 15 percent could be dead within 20 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Complete collapse a scenario
Old Dominion University professor Kent Carpenter, director of a worldwide census of marine species, warned that if global warming continues unchecked, all corals could be extinct within 100 years.

“You could argue that a complete collapse of the marine ecosystem would be one of the consequences of losing corals,” Carpenter said. “You’re going to have a tremendous cascade effect for all life in the oceans.”

Exotic and colorful, coral reefs aren’t lifeless rocks; they are made up of living creatures that excrete a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton. Once the animals die, the rocky structures erode, depriving fish of vital spawning and feeding grounds.

Experts say cutting back on carbon emissions to arrest rising sea temperatures and acidification of the water, declaring some reefs off limits to fishing and diving, and controlling coastal development and pollution could help reverse, or at least stall, the tide.

Florida, for instance, has the largest unbroken “no-take” zone in the continental U.S. — about 140 square miles off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of islands and reefs teeming with marine life about 70 miles off Key West.

Many fishermen oppose such restrictions. And other environmental measures have run into resistance at the state, local, national and international level. On Sunday, during a gathering of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, restrictions proposed by the U.S. and Sweden on the trade of some coral species were rejected.

Fish as a luxury?
If reefs were to disappear, commonly consumed species of grouper and snapper could become just memories. Oysters, clams and other creatures that are vital to many people’s diets would also suffer. And experts say commercial fisheries would fail miserably at meeting demand for seafood.

“Fish will become a luxury good,” said Cassandra deYoung of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation,” she added. “We will not be able to maintain food security around the world.”

The economic damage could be enormous. Ocean fisheries provide direct employment to at least 38 million people worldwide, with an additional 162 million people indirectly involved in the industry, according to the U.N.

Coral reefs draw scuba divers, snorkelers and other tourists to seaside resorts in Florida, Hawaii, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and help maintain some of the world’s finest sandy beaches by absorbing energy from waves. Without the reefs, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists could suffer financially.

Many Caribbean countries get nearly half their gross national product from visitors seeking tropical underwater experiences.

People all over the world could pay the price if reefs were to disappear, since some types of coral and marine species that rely on reefs are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop possible cures for cancer, arthritis and viruses.

“A world without coral reefs is unimaginable,” said Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who heads NOAA. “Reefs are precious sources of food, medicine and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands around the world. They are also special places of renewal and recreation for thousands more. Their exotic beauty and diverse bounty are global treasures.”

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March 26, 2010 at 9:13 AM Leave a comment

Solving Seafood — Sustainability

Julie Packard
Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Posted: February 8, 2010 06:17 PM on

I just returned from the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris, a gathering of over 600 business and NGO leaders concerned about the future of seafood. The group was diverse — marine biologists, ecologists, conservation advocates, and business leaders — who make their living catching, producing, buying, and selling seafood. I came away deeply impressed with the progress this far-ranging group is making, and the momentum that’s building for a future with healthy oceans and abundant seafood. At every turn, I witnessed people working to forge solutions to some very complex challenges. There was conflict and disagreement in many areas. But on one thing everyone agreed: our oceans are changing. Wild seafood catch is declining and ecosystems are under siege from overfishing, pollution and global climate change. As we look to the future of seafood, business as usual is not the answer. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is one part of the solution. We’ve backed our work with a decade of solid science, distributed 32 million consumer pocket guides and a popular iPhone app, and partnered with major seafood buyers — from the two largest food service companies in North America, to major retailers like Target. Together with our colleagues, we’re helping more and more businesses make and implement real commitments to sustainability. Making commitments becomes more complex as we learn about the impacts of seafood harvest and production in a changing ocean. What is “sustainable?” Does it simply mean managing a fishery so we can keep on catching fish? Or does it address our carbon footprint, overall ecosystem health, or impacts on workers and communities in the developing countries where an increasing amount of fishing and aquaculture is based? The need to create a more sustainable global aquaculture enterprise is urgent. Nearly half of all seafood today comes from farmed sources, but it’s not without negative impacts. Aquaculture can make a huge contribution to global food security and the economies of developing nations – if it’s done right. On land, the Green Revolution provided incredible benefits to humanity, but at some serious costs. We have the opportunity — and the imperative — to guide the coming “Blue Revolution” so we don’t repeat past mistakes. Another major point of consensus among business and environmental leaders at the Summit was the urgent need to reform government policies that regulate fisheries. We need better rules to protect fish, ecosystems and the jobs of people who make their livelihoods from the sea. We also need to create more marine protected areas where ocean ecosystems can thrive with minimal human impact. Overall, I was impressed by the level of sophistication of the conversation about the future of seafood. I also was reminded that in the end it’s all about individual action and getting people to care. As executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I used to think that the most challenging aspect of running an aquarium was what occurs on the wet side of the glass: keeping the animals, creating a kelp forest, bringing tunas into an exhibit environment. I’ve come to realize that the most challenging species to manage is not the fish, it’s us — human beings. How do we get people to care about the ocean, and motivate them to do something about its future? Our oceans are in crisis, and it’s vital that we turn the tide — for the sake of marine life, certainly, but because healthy oceans are essential to the future of all life on Earth, including ours. Few people have the future of the oceans at the top of their minds. That’s why it’s so important to enlist the help of people of all backgrounds: consumers and businesspeople, policy-makers and scientists, activists and artists. Some of this will be accomplished by the people I met in Paris. But the responsibility also lies with each of us. Author Michael Pollan made the case when he was on the Oprah show recently: “We all can vote with our forks; we get three votes a day.” By choosing sustainable seafood, and sustainable and organic food from land, we’ll help create a market for food that’s healthy for both the environment and us. Those individual decisions, small and simple though they are, can be our gift to the next generation — those thousands of kids that I see every year at the aquarium, our own kids and grandkids, and the future communities around the world who struggle to build a future for their kids. We have a real chance, right now, to create a future of survival and abundance for all life. Why would we pass that up?

February 9, 2010 at 11:29 AM Leave a comment

Oceans Absorb Less Carbon Dioxide as Marine Systems Change

The oceans are by far the largest carbon sink in the world. Some 93 percent of carbon dioxide is stored in algae, vegetation, and coral under the sea. But oceans are not able to absorb all of the carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, a recent study suggests that the oceans have absorbed a smaller proportion of fossil-fuel emissions, nearly 10 percent less, since 2000.The study, published in the current issue of Nature, is the first to quantify the perceived trend that oceans are becoming less efficient carbon sinks. The study team, led by Columbia University oceanographer Samar Khatiwala, measured the amount of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions pumped into the oceans since 1765.

Industrial carbon dioxide emissions have increased dramatically since the 1950s, and oceans have until recently been able to absorb the greater amounts of emissions. Sometime after 2000, however, the rise in emissions and the oceans’ carbon uptake decoupled. Oceans continue to absorb more carbon, but the pace appears to have slowed.

The reason is based in part on simple chemistry. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide have turned waters more acidic, especially nearer to the poles. While carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold, dense seawater, these waters are less capable of sequestering the gas as the ocean becomes more acidic. The study revealed that the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica, absorbs about 40 percent of the carbon in oceans.

Article continues HERE

November 24, 2009 at 10:22 AM Leave a comment

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