The science is clear, but what will we do to take better care of our ocean?

 Something has gotten researchers, NGO’s and concerned citizens shouting this week…well aside from the US Government shutdown…

“When an alarm bell rings over a threat to our ecological security, governments must respond as urgently as they do to national security threats; in the long run, the impacts are just as important.”  ~  Trevor Manuel, Co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission and Minister in the South African Presidency
“The world has grown too crowded to sustain the selfish pursuit of narrow national or business interests without regard for the impacts on others.”  ~ Professor Callum Roberts, University of York, UK.

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) released five papers which make up the State of the Ocean Report 2013.  It doesn’t reveal anything incredibly new, but it does bring together the latest thinking on the future of the oceans in one place.  Here’s the short news.  Despite some improvements in fisheries management - particularly in developed nations, overfishing, and destructive fishing at a global scale is still an issue.  Pollution loads – including nutrient runoff such as from agricultural land – is a threat particularly to coastal habitats.  At a global scale, the oceans are getting warmer.  Ocean acidification is increasing. Oxygen levels at a global scale are on the decline, with coastal waters particularly being impacted.   Here's the  punch line:

“the risks to the ocean and the ecosystems it supports have been significantly underestimated; that the extent of marine degradation as a whole is greater than the sum of its part; and that it is happening at a much faster rate than previously predicted...that the threats to the ocean [are] faster with an accelerated rate of change, bigger in scale, and closer in time in terms of the impacts being felt [than previously estimated] ”

So if all of this news is nothing that marine researches don’t already know, what’s the value of the report?  Well that depends on what you, and me, and Government choose to do.  The report highlights that we are all failing to recognise (ignoring?) the severity of marine degradation, and that “the situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth”


Each of the 5 papers making up the IPSO report focus on different stresses, impacts, and importantly potential solutions. 'Climate change impacts on coral reefs: Synergies with local effects, possibilities for acclimation, and management implications’ focuses on the need to keep carbon dioxide levels below 450 ppm, and coordinating local and regional level programs to reduce stresses.  ‘Climate change and the oceans — What does the future hold?' takes a closer look at the synergistic impact of ocean warming, acidification, and reducing oxygen levels (the ‘deadly trio’) on marine biodiversity.  ‘Ocean in peril: Reforming the management of global ocean living resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction’ takes a critical look at management and governance of the high seas.  These are waters that lie outside of national jurisdiction – perhaps one of the few last remaining ‘commons’.  ‘Evaluating legacy contaminants and emerging chemicals in marine environments using adverse outcome pathways and biological effects-directed analysis'  takes a look at the impact of regulated, unregulated, and natural contaminants in our marine environment, and the threat to both marine ecosystems  and the seafood we love to tucker in to.  Finally ‘Fisheries: Hope or despair?’  takes a look at the global trend of stock depletion and its impact on marine ecosystems, and what it means for the future of marine-based nutrition for our ever-growing human population.

IPSO have put together an executive summary of the report including key findings from each of the 5 papers.  I highly recommend taking a look at it – it’s very accessible.

If you want to read any of the papers making up this report for yourself, all the papers have been published in the journal ‘Marine Pollution Bulletin’.  They have been made open access, and you can find links to them all on the IPSO website.

Following on from this report, the BBC posed 7 experts a short, but complex question: Are humans capable of protecting the oceans?

Image: Jellyfish.  Credit Ashley Rose/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)