LONDON, UK, June 21, 2011 (ENS) - The oceans are at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history, a panel of international marine experts warns in a report released today [pdf].

A deadly trio of factors - warming, acidification and lack of oxygen - is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history, the panel warned.

The combined effects of these stressors are causing degeneration in the ocean that is "far faster than anyone has predicted," the scientists report.

The urgent warnings emerged from the first-ever interdisciplinary international workshop held April 11-13 to consider the cumulative impact of all stressors affecting the ocean.

"The findings are shocking," said Dr. Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean which convened the workshop. "As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized."

"This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level," warned Rogers, who specializes in the ecology, biodiversity and evolution of deep-sea ecosystems, with emphasis on cold-water corals, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and seeps.

The first steps to globally significant extinction may have already begun with a rise in the extinction threat to marine species such as reef-forming corals, the scientists said, emphasizing that "the unprecedented speed of change" makes accurate assessment difficult.

"We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that," warned Rogers. […]

Dan Laffoley, marine chair of IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas and senior ddvisor on Marine Science and Conservation for IUCN, and co-author of the report, said, "The world's leading experts on oceans are surprised by the rate and magnitude of changes we are seeing. The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent." […]

The panel members point out that the rate at which carbon is being absorbed by the ocean is already far greater now than at the time of the last globally significant extinction of marine species, some 55 million years ago, when up to 50 percent of some groups of deep sea animals were wiped out.

A single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16 percent of all the world's tropical coral reefs, they recalled, and overfishing has reduced some commercial fish stocks and populations of by-catch species by more than 90 percent. […]

Mass Extinction of Ocean Species Soon to Be 'Inevitable'

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