Satellite views of an algae bloom spanning the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: via NPR

By Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst
3 October 2013

(BBC News) – The health of the world’s oceans is deteriorating even faster than had previously been thought, a report says.

A review from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), warns that the oceans are facing multiple threats.

They are being heated by climate change, turned slowly less alkaline by absorbing CO2, and suffering from overfishing and pollution.

The report warns that dead zones formed by fertiliser run-off are a problem.

It says conditions are ripe for the sort of mass extinction event that has afflicted the oceans in the past.

It says: “We have been taking the ocean for granted. It has been shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

“Whilst terrestrial temperature increases may be experiencing a pause, the ocean continues to warm regardless. For the most part, however, the public and policymakers are failing to recognise - or choosing to ignore - the severity of the situation.”

It says the cocktail of threats facing the ocean is more powerful than the individual problems themselves.

Coral reefs, for instance, are suffering from the higher temperatures and the effects of acidification whilst also being weakened by bad fishing practices, pollution, siltation and toxic algal blooms.

IPSO, funded by charitable foundations, is publishing a set of five papers based on workshops in 2011 and 2012 in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN’s) World Commission on Protected Areas.

The reports call for world governments to halt CO2 increase at 450ppm. Any higher, they say, will cause massive acidification later in the century as the CO2 is absorbed into the sea.

It urges much more focused fisheries management, and a priority list for tackling the key groups of chemicals that cause most harm.

It wants the governments to negotiate a new agreement for the sustainable fishing in the high oceans to be policed by a new global high seas enforcement agency.

The IUCN’s Prof Dan Laffoley said: "What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses.

"The UN climate report confirmed that the ocean is bearing the brunt of human-induced changes to our planet. These findings give us more cause for alarm – but also a roadmap for action. We must use it." [more]

Health of oceans 'declining fast'

Cover of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) report 2013. Graphic: IPSOLondon, 3 October 2013 (IPSO) – An international panel of marine scientists is demanding urgent remedies to halt ocean degradation based on findings that the rate, speed and impacts of change in the global ocean are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought.

Results from the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN review of science on anthropogenic stressors on the ocean go beyond the conclusion reached last week by the UN climate change panel the IPCC that the ocean is absorbing much of the warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and warn that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is far graver than previous estimates.

Decreasing oxygen levels in the ocean caused by climate change and nitrogen run-off, combined with other chemical pollution and rampant overfishing are undermining the ability of the ocean to withstand these so-called 'carbon perturbations', meaning its role as Earth's 'buffer' is seriously compromised.

Read the full press release


The State of the Ocean 2013: Perils, Prognoses and Proposals: Executive Summary

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) is publishing a set of five papers on ocean stresses, impacts and solutions by leading international experts to present the key findings of the workshops it held in 20111 and 2012* in partnership with IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas. The purpose of these workshops, and the papers published today, is to promote a holistic, integrated view of both the challenges faced and the actions needed to achieve a healthy global ocean for the future.

Introduction to the special issue: The global state of the ocean; interactions between stresses, impacts and some potential solutions. Synthesis papers from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean 2011 and 2012 workshops

Climate change impacts on coral reefs: Synergies with local effects, possibilities for acclimation, and management implications
Coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is imperative and urgent that emissions targets below 450 ppm CO2e be agreed and implemented, combined with coordinated programmes at local and regional levels to reduce other stress factors and boost resilience; otherwise it is predicted that most reefs will be lost as effective, productive systems within a few decades.

Climate change and the oceans — What does the future hold?
The ocean is shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. The twin effects of this — acidification and ocean warming — are combining with increased levels of deoxygenation, caused by nutrient run-off from agriculture near the coast ,and by climate change offshore, to produce what has become known as the ocean's 'deadly trio' of threats whose impacts are potentially far greater because of the interaction of one on another. The scale and rate of this change is unprecedented in Earth's known history and is exposing organisms to intolerable and unpredictable evolutionary pressure.

Ocean in peril: Reforming the management of global ocean living resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction
The current system of high seas governance is fraught with gaps, directly leading to the mismanagement and misappropriation of living resources, and placing our ocean in peril. It is time for a new paradigm that can only come about through the fundamental reform of existing organisations and systems, overseen by a new global infrastructure to coordinate and enforce the necessary action. Crucially, the authors call for the negotiation of a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Evaluating legacy contaminants and emerging chemicals in marine environments using adverse outcome pathways and biological effects-directed analysis
Protecting marine ecosystems and seafood resources from the adverse effects of complex cocktails of 'legacy' (already regulated) contaminants, emerging (unregulated) chemicals and natural chemicals (e.g. algal biotoxins) remains a critical, unresolved global problem. The economic and infrastructural challenges posed by such a wide variety of chemicals means that the most cost-effective approach is to implement a targeted, effects-based strategy that prioritizes key groups of chemicals of most concern.

Fisheries: Hope or despair?
The global picture of ongoing depletions of fish stocks, the degradation of food webs, threats to seafood security and poor quality of most fishing management is alarming and demonstrates that recent more optimistic outlooks are misplaced. Reversing these global trends towards "despair" demands urgent, focused, innovative action to promote effective community- and ecosystem-based management.

high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.

The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health. (click for press release)

The report summary (released 21 June 2011) outlines the main findings and recommendations. The full report will be released at a later date.

Title: Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d'A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp. For a full list of participants, please see table at the end of the long version.

Report Summary: long version / shorter version.

The report is also accompanied by four case studies, which look in more detail at some of the workshop's main findings. [more]




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