The seas, oceans, lakes, wetlands and rivers and the animals and plants they sustain are under severe stress from overfishing, atmospheric pollution, contaminants pollution, coastal development, invasive species and climate change. Many marine ecosystems are floundering. Others are collapsing. People are causing devastation to the marine life support systems vital for our survival. The WWF Living Planet Report 2020 makes for some sober reading indeed.
Industrial overfishing the the Mediterranean Sea
The Earth’s water regions are under attack from all sides. They cannot and will not survive. Governments, including the European Union, are still setting legal fishing limits at grossly unsustainable levels in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Not only are fish and marine plant and mammal populations not being allowed to recover to preindustrial levels with enforced protection, but people are again going into overkill. The fishing industry is not some structure over which we have no control, it is run by people and regulated by policymakers. How hard can it be to do the right thing for the common good.
The onslaught by people on the seas and oceans is total and relentless. There is the by-catch of non-target fish, seafloor habitat destruction from seafloor trawling, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, gathering of fish and marine mammals for the aquarium trade, ‘ghost-fishing’ due to lost or dumped fishing gear. This is reducing fish and marine mammal population sizes. The life processes of marine species are all interlinked and interconnected. When people overkill even just one species it effects all others as it disrupts the predator-prey and other collaborative relationships within the ecosystem.
Marine ecosystems are restructuring, as they adapt to the devastation, thereby changing the world’s water regions we love and cherish in ways that will no longer sustain life as we know it. Trophic cascades, that are the domino collapse of interdependent species, follow. Additionally, as we kill fish and marine mammals at all stages of their life cycle (the biggest always go first) the animal populations are not allowed to reproduce. There is only one possible outcome to this ecocide and that is the extinction of most, if not all, of the fish and marine mammals.
Annual massacre of one thousand Pilot Whales in the Faroe Islands
The odds are all stacked against marine life as the vast majority of the eight billion humans and all but one or two of the one hundred and ninety six governments worldwide choose death over life every day with every decision, choice and action. The WWF report lists the damage being wilfully inflicted by people on the Earth’s water world.
Air and nutrient pollution is causing ocean acidification and the loss of ocean oxygen is creating more and larger dead zones; climate change is warming the atmosphere and waters causing more frequent extreme weather events and changes in ocean currents that distribute heat and cold around the world; coral reefs are dying through bleaching; the biosphere is being transformed and becoming less hospitable; marine species are on the move in search of a safer environment where they can survive; the incidence of diseases on humans and also on other species is increasing; a large numbers of species are experiencing changes in the timing, and in some cases even the possibility, of biological reproduction; the social order of human, animal and plant species is being altered irreversibly.
Shark trapped in ghost nets
Nutrient run-off from agriculture is creating dead zones; contaminants such as heavy metals, micro-and macro-plastics are polluting the seas; algal blooms are causing oxygen loss; an accumulation of toxins has now found its way into the marine food web. The ingestion of and entanglement in plastic and other debris is killing many millions of fish, marine mammals and seabirds annually.
The toxic impacts of domestic waste disposal, fuel leaks, dumping from ships and oil spills from offshore platforms are affecting the physical makeup of all marine life and ecosystems. Noise and radar pollution are impacting marine animal behaviour.
The destruction of entire habitats, the reduction in area of habitats and increased pressure on local shorelines, such as mangroves and seagrasses, limit the ability of organisms to shift and migrate to adapt to climate change.
As marine ecosystems go into deeper chaos, more species are on the move to escape from failing ecosystems. We can expect the problem of invasive species to worsen exponentially. Invasive species can outcompete native species, disrupt ecosystems and cause local or global extinctions.
Fish farming causes nutrient build-up, and the potential for algal blooms, disease and antibiotics dispersal. The escape of captive fish impacts the surrounding local ecosystems. Fish farming increases the stress on wild fish populations as wild fish are caught in order to provide fishmeal to feed the captive fish.
Dolphins being slaughtered in the infamous cove in Taiji, Japan
The war that humanity is waging on the planet’s water regions is suicidal. More than three billion people rely on marine life for their livelihoods. Humanity’s amoral responses to the current sixth mass extinction of life on Earth are an indictment of the governance and economic systems based on growth and the exploitation of nature.
We must stabilise the current planetary ecosystems disruption at a level that still sustains as many of the existing species as possible. For far too many species it is already too late. The magnitude, scope and urgency of the actions necessary would dwarf any measures taken in response to the Covid-19 outbreak and require a level of collaboration between countries unprecedented in all human history. We have no other options. This is an imperative for survival.
This article was published in the Times of Malta on the 3rd April 2021
To read other articles on the threats to oceans and forests click here.
See video special report by SKY News ‘The Ocean’ click here.