Why the oceans are in trouble!
The oceans can no longer handle the damage brought on by the 7 billion people on Earth. Over the decades, the human race has over-fished specific species to near extinction, and polluted them with carbon dioxide emissions, toxic chemicals, garbage, and unrecycled plastics. A shocking new study, recently published in Science, warned that our waterways are being detrimentally damaged by humans and could be on “the precipice of a major extinction event.” Coral reefs, home to a quarter of the ocean’s fish, have declined by 40% across the globe. Numbers of swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other large species that people commonly eat are down by 90%. Marine scientists have concluded that if we do not drastically change how we treats the oceans and their inhabitants, many marine species will become extinct—with catastrophic consequences for the food chain. “If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve,” says Stanford University marine ecologist Stephen Palumbi, one of the report’s authors, “there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean.”
Global warming affects fish!
As the oceans heat up, a vast number of species are migrating to cooler waters to survive. Some of which eventually fail in these new habitats. Warmer temperatures also cause coral reefs to become more vulnerable to “bleaching,” a chemical process that drains the organisms of their brilliant colors and leads to their demise. Other issues are caused directly by the consumption of fossil fuels. With oceans absorbing a quarter of the world’s C02 emissions, they have become 30% more acidic, inhibiting shell growth in both coral and crustaceans, in addition to reproductive disorders in fish. Power plant emissions—especially from burning coal—releases significant amounts of highly toxic mercury into the air, which then settles into the ocean. The mercury is absorbed by sea life and has shown to be concentrated in predatory species. A recent study found that mercury levels measured in Pacific yellowfin tuna have risen at a rate of 3.8% a year since 1998. “If it continues to increase in that manner,” says co-author Carl Lamborg, eventually almost “every kind of fish is going to be potentially hazardous to consume.”
What about plastic?
It is estimated that our oceans contain about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic—most of them measuring less than 5 millimeters wide— weighing a whopping total of 269,000 tons. A lot of this waste, which mostly comes from plastic bottles and discarded commercial fishing gear, has collected in various systems of rotating ocean currents, known as gyres. The largest such collection, being the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” expands an area more than double the size of Texas. The mostly tiny pieces of plastic in this and other patches contain many potentially hazardous chemicals, which are in turn being eaten by fish and birds that mistake them for plankton or small fish. As smaller animals are then eaten by predatory fish, the toxins from the plastics become more concentrated and wind up being consumed by people who eat seafood.
Can we eventually overcome the issue?
It is not very likely that the issue will ever be resolved. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that to eradicate even less than 1% of the plastic debris in the North Pacific it would take 68 ships, working 10 hours per day, for an entire year. An effort of that scope would also cause many marine creatures to be killed in the process. With global plastic production increasing two-fold every 10 years, “there’s no way to keep up,” says Chris Wilcox of Australia’s national science agency. “It would be as if you were vacuuming your living room, and I’m standing at the doorway with a bag of dust and a fan.”
Is over-fishing a serious problem?
Yes!! Ever since fishing became industrialized more than a century ago, the most commercialized marine species have been reduced by up to 99%. As numbers dwindle, fishing fleets are increasingly turning to “bottom trawling,” or “dragging,” an immensely destructive fishing method in which a large net is dragged up to 200 feet wide along the ocean floor, scooping up everything in its path. Most countries have initiated fishing quotas, but they are nearly impossible to enforce: An estimated 1 in 5 fish purchased in a shop or served in a restaurant has been caught illegally.
What more can we do?
Similar to global warming, the future of our oceans is an issue that affects every country in the world. However, with each government hindered by it’s own road-blocking red tape, it’s almost impossible to achieve a global agreement on addressing the issue. Ecologists insist that it’s not too late to solve the problems affecting our oceans. Some ides which have been expressed, such as the introduction of “safe zones” where fish can naturally thrive, have worked on a small scale and could be expanded into larger territories. The authors of the publicized research findings confirm that it is eventually possible to reverse the current crisis, but only if all countries can agree to act together on a global scale. “The next several decades,” they say, “will be those in which we choose the fate of the future of marine wildlife.”
What are the dangers of consuming fish?
For many years, health officials have encouraged people to eat as much seafood as possible due to the beneficial high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which they contain. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart and brain health. But in recent years that recommendation has been somewhat reversed, as emissions from factories and power plants have increased mercury concentrations in our oceans causing the ingestion of large amounts of fish to be potentially dangerous to humans. Mercury is highly toxic and can cause neurological damage and accumulate in organs; in children and fetuses, and can lead to long-term cognitive disorders.
Last year, the FDA changed it’s stance on fish consumption, stating that pregnant women and children should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. They also warned people to limit their consumption of white tuna as well. All of the noted species in particular contain drastically high levels of mercury because they are at the top of the marine food chain. Consumer Reports recently criticized the FDA’s guidelines on fish consumption as inadequate, stating that anyone who eats 24 ounces or more of fish per week, or about six servings, “should steer clear of high mercury choices,” and urging people not to eat canned tuna or sushi made from tuna.
The world must come together globally in order to settle the waves on this disastrous ecological problem. Our oceans deserve to be healthy, as do we.