— The Erimtan Angle —

The popular science writer and blogger Carl Zimmer writes in the New York Times that a “team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday [, 15 January 2015] in the journal Science. But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health . . . Scientific assessments of the oceans’ health are dogged by uncertainty: It’s much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet”.[1]

Zimmer goes on to say that “Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way. A number of experts said the result was a remarkable synthesis, along with a nuanced and encouraging prognosis”.[2]

The Science piece “Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean” puts forward that “[m]arine defaunation, or human-caused animal loss in the oceans, emerged forcefully only hundreds of years ago, whereas terrestrial defaunation has been occurring far longer. Though humans have caused few global marine extinctions, we have profoundly affected marine wildlife, altering the functioning and provisioning of services in every ocean. Current ocean trends, coupled with terrestrial defaunation lessons, suggest that marine defaunation rates will rapidly intensify as human use of the oceans industrializes. Though protected areas are a powerful tool to harness ocean productivity, especially when designed with future climate in mind, additional management strategies will be required. Overall, habitat degradation is likely to intensify as a major driver of marine wildlife loss. Proactive intervention can avert a marine defaunation disaster of the magnitude observed on land”.[3]

Loren McClenachan, a Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Colby College in Tallahassee, FL, who was not involved in the research, assesses the study as a “call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea”.[4]  The Science article might very well be a wake up call, but it would seem that the time to act has already come and gone. In another New York Times piece, the reporter Justin Gillis, whose beat consists of ‘covering the science of climate change and the policy implications of that science’, matter-of-factly records that “[l]ast year was the hottest on earth since record-keeping began in 1880, scientists reported on Friday [, 16 January 2015], underscoring warnings about the risks of runaway greenhouse gas emissions and undermining claims by climate change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped”, elaborating that in “the annals of climatology, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year. The 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human activity and poses profound long-term risks to civilization and nature”.[5]  And also profound long-term risks for the oceans and the life-forms teeming under water . . . Too little too late, or is there still time left, as the Science article authors suggest???  In spite of the just-noted fact that “10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997”, Gillis continues that “[s]keptics of climate change have long argued that global warming stopped around 1998, when an unusually powerful El Niño produced the hottest year of the 20th century”.[6]

[1] Carl Zimmerm “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says” The New York Times (15 Jan 2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/science/earth/study-raises-alarm-for-health-of-ocean-life.html?emc=edit_th_20150116&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=68990308&_r=0.

[2] Carl Zimmerm “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says”.

[3] Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley, ” Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean” Science (16 Jan 2015). http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6219/1255641.full.pdf?sid=348edd1b-b944-41e9-828b-0f464fa45890.

[4] Carl Zimmerm “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says”.

[5] Justin Gillis, “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics” The New York Times (16 Jan 2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/science/earth/2014-was-hottest-year-on-record-surpassing-2010.html?emc=edit_na_20150116&nlid=68990308&_r=0.

[6] Justin Gillis, “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics”.

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