The oceans are facing ecological disaster caused by humans in what seems like every possible direction. With overfishing, climate change, coastal development and water quality degradation leading the way, experts are trying to bring more light to the problem and identify the most important actions that must take place to help avoid this destruction of the seas.
In a new paper published in Aquatic Conservationa team of marine scientists and experts in law, policy and finance reviewed and synthesized the findings of 131 peer-reviewed scientific papers on ocean change to asses changes occurring and the consequences of inaction.
The experts identified eight urgent actions that must occur and if these actions are not met, they outlined that failure to take action in the next 10 years to slow damage caused by unprecedented rates of climate heating and other human activities could result in catastrophic changes in the functioning of the global ocean, threatening vital ecosystems and disruption of human civilization.
As well, the assessment said that diminished marine food-chain production, reduced ability to store carbon, sinking oxygen levels, and the possible release of stored heat back in to the atmosphere are among the changes already taking place or evidence as about to take place due to human activity.
“We are witnessing an increase in ocean heat, disturbance, acidification, bio-invasions and nutrients, and reducing oxygen,” the paper explained. “Several of these act like ratchets: once detrimental or negative changes have occurred, they may lock in place and may not be reversible, especially at gross ecological and ocean process scales.”
With the prospect of fixing and undoing the damage humans have already undone on the oceans, researchers outlined eight urgent items that must met and accomplished to avoid ecological disaster.
- The highest priority needs to remain addressing global heating and limit surface temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2100. However, measures should be implemented to prepare for a 2-3oC temperature rise. Climate breakdown impacts in the ocean are described as ‘pervasive and accelerating’ and the pre-eminent factor driving change in the ocean.
- Call for a precautionary moratorium on deep-sea mining as mounting concern that mining activity could disrupt carbon stores in seafloor sediments, reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate the effects of the climate emergency.
- Secure a robust, comprehensive High Seas Treaty with a Conference of Parties and a Scientific Committee; and reformed voting rights on bodies such as the International Seabed Authority to stop vested interests undermining the precautionary approach;
- Enforce existing standards for effective marine protected areas (MPAs), and in particular fully protected marine reserves, and extend their scope to fully protect at least 30% of the ocean, including representation of all habitats and the high seas, while ensuring effective management to prevent significant adverse effects for 100% of the rest of the ocean;
- End overfishing and destructive practices including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;
- Radically reduce marine water pollution, including nitrogen fertilisers and sewage as well as plastics;
- Provide a financing mechanism for ocean management and protection, and tax unsustainable activities to remove costs to the global commons and fund innovation and adaptation;
- Scale-up scientific research on the ocean and increase transparency and accessibility of ocean data from all sources (i.e. science, government, industry). Increasing the understanding of heat absorption and heat release from the sea to the atmosphere should be a research priority – the UN Decade of Ocean Science beginning in 2021 is a key opportunity to achieve this step change
Lead author of the paper Dan Laffoley of the Internation Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) explained that, “Marine life is threatened with suffocation, starvation, overheating and acid corrosion under current climate impacts. The situation is only getting worse. We need to act on climate change but also, urgently build resilience. All life on Earth is at risk from ocean collapse. This paper sets out eight practical but ambitioussteps that need to be implemented simultaneously in order to help prevent that.
We have about 10 years to act. Tipping points in ocean decline are now significantly more likely to happen if action is not taken now, and there is a great opportunity to make this happen,” added co-author Professor Callum Roberts of York University. “The Paris Climate Agreement comes into force in 2020 with its implementation plan; negotiations for the UN Treaty on biodiversity protection beyond national jurisdiction are scheduled to be completed by 2020; and an ocean Sustainable Development Goal has targets that are to be delivered by 2020. Seizing these policy opportunities and bringing these global efforts together must bear fruit.”
While the eight actions required are definitely large and monumental tasks, it needs to start somewhere and the best place is each individual whom cares about the ocean.
The first thing you can do is start reaching out to local, state and federal governments demanding actions on policies that will help protect the oceans. Whether it be all eight actions recommended or just one, call on your governments to act on these highly needed regulations.
The next best thing you can do is start supporting organizations that are already on the front line of trying to combat climate change, ocean quality, overfishing or just the overall health of the ocean. Whether it be a group like Oceana, a company that is investing in green technology such as tesla, or any of the countless organizations that are fighting for a future with the world in mind, how you spend your dollar truly matters.