Death of Marine Life Poses Threat to Man
The oceans are a barometer of health of the planet. If the oceans are well, the rest of the planet benefits. But the bad news is that our oceans are sick, disturbed and caught in a cycle of decay.
The main problems revolve around serious overfishing, pollution and climate change, the latter indirectly leading to changes in the traditional sea currents, leading to changes in marine life distribution.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, the oceans are suffering from the following litany of problems:
• OIL POLLUTION – Oil spills apparently account for only about five percent of the oil entering the oceans around the world. In the United States, the Coast Guard estimates waters sewage treatment plants discharge twice as much oil each year as oil tanker spills.
• INDUSTRIAL AND DOMESTIC POLLUTION – Each year industrial, household cleaning, gardening, and automotive products pollute water. About 65,000 chemicals are used commercially in the United States today, with about 1,000 new ones added each year. Only about 300 have been extensively tested for toxicity.
• MEDICAL WASTE – It is estimated that medical waste that washed up onto Long Island and New Jersey beaches in the summer of 1988 cost as much as $3 billion in lost revenue from tourism and recreation.
• PLASTIC – The most frequently found item in beach cleanups is pieces of plastic. The next four items are plastic foam, plastic utensils, pieces of glass and cigarette butts.
• NETS – Lost or discarded fishing nets keep on fishing. Called “ghost nets,” this gear entangles fish, marine mammals, and sea birds, preventing them from feeding or causing them to drown. As many as 20,000 northern fur seals may die each year from becoming entangled in netting.
• AIR POLLUTION – Air pollution is responsible for almost one-third of the toxic contaminants and nutrients that enter coastal areas and oceans.
• NITRATES – When nitrogen and phosphorus from sources such as fertilizer, sewage and detergents enter coastal waters, oxygen depletion occurs. One gram of nitrogen can make enough organic material to require 15 grams of oxygen to decompose. A single gram of phosphorus will deplete one hundred grams of oxygen.
• DECAY – The Mississippi River drains more than 40 percent of the continental United States, carrying excess nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico. Decay of the resulting algal blooms consumes oxygen, kills shellfish and displaces fish in a 4,000 square mile bottom area off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, called the “dead zone.”
• NO SWIMMING – In 1993, United States beaches were closed or swimmers advised not to get in the water over 2,400 times because of sewage contamination. The problem is even worse than the numbers indicate: there are no federal requirements for notifying the public when water-quality standards are violated, and some coastal states don’t monitor water at beaches.
• INVADERS – The zebra mussel is the most famous unwanted ship stowaway, but the animals and plants being transported to new areas through ship ballast water is a problem around the world. Poisonous algae, cholera, and countless plants and animals have invaded harbor waters and disrupted ecological balance.
• CORAL REEFS – There are 109 countries with coral reefs. Reefs in 90 of them are being damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists.
• CORAL DESTRUCTION – One study of a cruise ship anchor dropped in a coral reef for one day found an area about half the size of a football field completely destroyed, and half again as much covered by rubble that died later. It was estimated that coral recovery would take fifty years.
• ASWAN DAM – Egypt’s High Aswan Dam, built in the 1960s to provide electricity and irrigation water, diverts up to 95 percent of the Nile River’s normal flow. It has since trapped more than one million tons of nutrient rich silt and caused a sharp decline in Mediterranean sardine and shrimp fisheries.
• DEPLETION – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that of the seventeen major fisheries areas in the world, four are depleted and the other thirteen are either fished to capacity or overfished.
• COMMERCIAL FISHING – Commercial marine fisheries in the United States discard up to 20 billion pounds of non-target fish each year– twice the catch of desired commercial and recreational fishing combined.
• COASTAL CONSTRUCTION – Almost half of all construction in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s took place in coastal areas.
• POPULATION – Within thirty years a billion more people will be living along the coasts than are alive today.
• U.S. CONSUMPTION – With only 4.3 percent of the world population, Americans use about one-third of the world’s processed mineral resources, and about one-fourth of the world’s non-renewable energy sources, like oil and coal.
NGO Greenpeace cites the following threats to the ocean:
You may believe that we saved the whales in the 1980’s. But Japan has been using a loophole in international law to conduct “scientific research” on whales for years. Each year, the Japanese government slaughters 850 minke whales. This year, they have announced plans to expand their “research” to kill 50 endangered humpback whales, and 50 endangered fin whales, in addition to their usual minke slaughter.
Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom. Overfishing happens when the amount of fish caught exceeds the amount of fish needed to sustain fish stocks in a given region.
• Factory fishing
Giant factory ships are using state-of-the-art equipment to locate and literally vaccuum entire schools of fish out of the water. These industrial fishing fleets target one species at a time, until numbers are so low, that they turn to another species, decimating the entire ocean food chain and threatening the very future of our oceans.
• Bottom Trawling
Ancient forests in danger … deep under the ocean. Biologists estimate that somewhere between 500,000 and 5,000,000 marine species have yet to be discovered. Many of these species are in serious danger from the world’s most destructive fishing practice – bottom trawling.
• Global Warming
Global warming impacts all life on Earth, and the oceans are no exception. From coral bleaching to sea level rise and higher ocean temperatures, entire ecosystems are rapidly changing, and animals are having a difficult time surviving the impacts. The effects are already beginning to be felt. Whole species of marine animals and fish are at risk due to the temperature rise – they simply cannot survive in the changed conditions.
Every year, fishing nets kill up to 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises around the world. Fishing nets pose the greatest threat to the survival of many species. In fact, some fishing practices destroy entire habitats, as well as inhabitants. Bottom trawling is a fishing method that drags heavy metal chains across the ocean floor, destroying ancient deep-sea coral forests and other delicate ecosystems.
• Fish farming
Aquaculture (farming fish and shellfish) is often called the future of the seafood industry. But shrimp farming is perhaps the most destructive, unsustainable and unjust fishery in the world. The salmon farming industry also proves fish farming is no solution – it takes approximately 4kgs of wild caught fish to produce 1kg of farmed salmon.
Our oceans have become a dumping ground for a wide variety of pollutants, including pesticides and nutrients from agriculture, sewage, industrial discharges, urban and industrial run-off, accidents, spillage, explosions, sea dumping operations, mining, waste heat sources, and radioactive discharges.
• Pirate Fishing
Armed and masked, scouring the oceans, stealing food from hungry families – modern day pirates are a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood movies. But they are a multi billion-dollar reality for many communities that can least afford to be robbed.
Sources: Smithsonian Institute, Greenpeace
‘Shocking’ new report on threats to the oceans
The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature warns that combined threats to oceans are creating conditions where there is “a high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.” Dr. Alex Rogers, scientific director of the IPSO, calls the new findings “shocking.”