We have just published a feature-length report by Daniela Muhawi on the oceans of the world entitled “Our Endangered Oceans.” It is our contention that global warming alarm and the war on CO2 emissions has shoved into the background urgent environmental challenges that require action right now – tropical deforestation, species extinction, aquifer depletion, desertification, genuine air pollution, water pollution. But joining these global environmental challenges at the top of the list are the imminent threats to ocean species and ecosystems.
One of the most compelling reasons to report on the oceans is because it is here that sweeping changes are happening now, not in 50-100 years. The final destruction of the major ocean reef habitats as well as the collapse of major fish populations is well underway. As of 2007, both may soon be destroyed beyond repair, and with every month of delay on the part of the international environmental community the chances dim for our fisheries and reefs.
The encouraging news is this doesn’t have to happen. Where coral reefs have been protected from destructive fishing practices, they have often began to show signs of revitalization within a few years. If overfishing were stopped with some strong international agreements, soon many fisheries would again begin to yield sustainable harvests larger than today’s unsustainable harvests.
With 70% of the earth’s surface consisting of ocean, the myriad of ways they nourish us and nurture vast ecosystems defy easy summaries. Even deforestation is a problem in coastal waters, where the mangrove forests are being cut down. Tsunamis and cyclones can rampage far further inland when mangrove forests are destroyed, as they frequently are to make room for aquaculture. Intact coral reefs also act as effective storm barriers. But the coral reefs are failing – as much from overfishing as from global warming.
CO2 in the air becomes carbonic acid as it is absorbed by the ocean, reportedly increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans to the highest levels seen in hundreds of thousands of years. Increasing seawater acidity eventually becomes toxic to many reefs and other ocean species. This alarming data could well be the most compelling reason of all to be concerned about rising levels of atmospheric CO2.