Human activity could cause many of the world's ocean plants and animals to become extinct within our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children, according to a report released today by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean. The report, produced by the first-ever international, inter-disciplinary panel of marine experts, reviews the latest scientific research and concludes the cumulative effects of numerous pressures like overfishing, pollution, acidification and climate change will be worse than anticipated, wiping out marine species and ecosystems on a global scale.
Many of these pressures are the result of human actions. In an attempt to support an increasingly demanding global economy we're pushing the oceans to their limit. As a result of overfishing many species are no longer available in numbers large enough to support a fishery, and by killing many of the top marine predators food chains are seriously altered and degraded. Climate change means increased temperatures, more acidity and more "dead zones" where conditions have become so void of oxygen they can no longer support marine life. The more we stress the oceans, the less resilient they become and the more likely they won't recover.
The catastrophe lies in the combination of these pressures. We're seeing the effects much sooner than we anticipated, and they're more damaging than we previously thought. Ocean acidification and warming has preceded every past mass extinction event in the last 600 million years. It now looks like it's happening again, and we can see the signs right here in Canada, with declining fish stocks, increased ocean acidity, and pollution. Pacific orcas are now some of the most contaminated animals on the planet, for example.
This report is just the latest signal that time is running out. Fortunately, there are solutions. The panel is calling for an immediate reduction in carbon emissions and urgent action on restoring marine ecosystems. It's clear that the longer we delay action, the greater the long-term cost will be.
Everyone has to take responsibility for conserving our ocean environments. There's a lot that individuals can do. Find out what you can do to help today: Start by demanding national action on healthy oceans.
Listen to DSF's senior conservation specialist Bill Wareham talk about the report on the CBC's B.C. Almanac podcast.