Our oceans are in trouble
They can no longer absorb the damage inflicted by the 7 billion people on Earth. Over many decades, the human race has overfished key species to near extinction, and polluted them with CO2 emissions, toxic chemicals, garbage, and discarded plastics. A groundbreaking new study, recently published in 
Science, warned that our oceans are being irreparably damaged by human activity 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% worldwide. Marine scientists say that if mankind does not dramatically change how it treats the oceans and their inhabitants, many marine species will become extinct — with catastrophic consequences for the food chain.  link 
(June 2017) It is estimated that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of flow into the world's oceans annually. Much of it is ingested by birds and fish. A recent paper said much of the marine plastic often originates far from the sea, especially in countries which have developed consumer economies faster than their ability to manage waste. The Helmholtz Center in Germany, estimated that 75% of land-borne marine pollution comes from just ten rivers, predominantly in Asia. Reducing the plastic loads in these rivers by 50% would reduce global plastic inputs by 37%. link       

Latest news:

Oct. 23 2017: Ocean acidification is deadly threat to marine life. Ocean acidification is progressing rapidly around the world, and in combination with other threats to marine life is proving deadly. Many organisms that could withstand a certain amount of acidification are at risk of losing this adaptive ability owing to pollution from plastics, and the extra stress from global warming. The 8-year study into the effects of ocean acidification found our increasingly acid seas, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, are becoming more hostile to vital marine life. link


  • General Information
  • Thermal Intertia
  • Acidification
  • Sea level rise
  • Plastic in the oceans crisis
  • Great Pacific garbage patch
See page on Coral Reefs

General Information

October 2017: The oceans hold the story of a planet warming as fossil fuels are burned.
A new paper on ocean warming says this accrued heat is really the memory of past climate change. More than 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed into the oceans that cover two-thirds of the planet's surface. Their temperature is rising, too, and it tells a story of how humans are changing the planet. It's not just the amount of warming that is significant, it's also the pace. The rate at which the oceans are heating up has nearly doubled since 1992, and that heat is reaching ever deeper waters. link

February 2017: Oceans losing delicate oxygen. A research synthesis has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world, a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues. The paper found a decline of more than 2% in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate, unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish.  link

April 2017: UN announces first-ever World Ocean Festival. With global leaders heading to the United Nations for a major conference in June on the protection and sustainable use of the planet’s oceans, the UN announced that the inaugural World Ocean Festival will kick off the week-long event, with activists and enthusiasts taking to the streets – and waterways – of New York City to raise their voices to reverse the declining health of our oceans.  link

September 2016: Soaring ocean temperature greatest hidden challenge of our generation. The oceans have already sucked up an enormous amount of heat due to escalating greenhouse gas emissions, according to an International Union for Conservation of Nature. The report states,  “due to a domino effect, key human sectors are at threat, especially fisheries, aquaculture, coastal risk management, health and coastal tourism.” The scale of warming in the ocean, which covers around 70% of the planet, is “truly staggering”, the report states. link

July 2016: Humans have caused world’s warmest seas to surge in temperature.  
Greenhouse gas emissions have led to an increase in the size and temperature of the ‘Indo-Pacific Warm Pool’, the largest area of warm water in the world, scientists have warned. The pool stretches about 9,000 miles along the equator and 1,500 miles from north to south. It is defined as an area of ocean with an average temperature of more than 28C, but this can reach up to 30C in places. As water warms, it expands and the region has experienced the “world’s highest rates of sea-level rise” in recent years.  link

January 2015: Ocean life faces mass extinction. 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. link

March 2017: "A Voice for the Planet" video. Oceans provide a home to countless life forms and give so much to our way of life. Unfortunately, they are struggling because of climate change, pollution and over fishing. Please watch to stay informed on what we can do to help protect and preserve the oceans. We need to take care of them - view

SeaWeb envisions a world where all people understand and act upon the knowledge that a healthy ocean is vital to all life and essential to a sustainable future.  Seaweb.org . 

October 2014: Fish failing to adapt to rising CO2 levels in oceans. More than 90% of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is soaked up by the oceans. Rising CO2 levels in oceans adversely change the behaviour of fish through generations, raising the possibility that marine species may never fully adapt to their changed environment. link

Global Partnership for Oceans.

February 2012.A powerful new coalition of governments, international organizations, civil society groups and private interests are joining together under the banner of Global Partnership for Oceans to confront widely documented problems of over-fishing, marine degradation, and habitat loss. World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said:  “The world’s oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization. We need coordinated global action to restore our oceans to health.  Together we’ll build on the excellent work already being done to address the threats to oceans, identify workable solutions, and scale them up.”  link

March 2011: New research on ocean's role in trapping CO2. The ocean traps around 30% of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere through human activity and represents, with the terrestrial biosphere, the main carbon sink. The ocean traps carbon through two principal mechanisms: a biological pump and a physical pump linked to oceanic currents. Researchers have managed to quantify the role of these two pumps in an area of the North Atlantic. Contrary to expectations, the physical pump in this region could be nearly 100 times more powerful on average than the biological pump. By pulling down masses of water cooled and enriched with carbon, ocean circulation thus plays a crucial role in deep carbon sequestration in the North Atlantic. link

June 2010: The world's oceans are virtually choking on rising greenhouse gases According to a 10-year study by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, the world's oceans are virtually choking on rising greenhouse gases, destroying marine ecosystems and breaking down the food chain. Hoegh-Guldberg says the oceans are the Earth's heart and lungs, producing half the world's oxygen and absorbing 30% of man-made CO2. He concludes, "We are well on the way to the next great extinction event."  link  

January 2011: Warming oceans more of a threat than air temperature. Ice sheets simmering in warmer ocean waters could melt much quicker than realized. New research is suggesting that as oceans heat up they could erode away the ice sheets much faster than warmer air alone, and this interaction needs to be accounted for in climate change models. "Ocean warming is very important compared to atmospheric warming, because water has a much larger heat capacity than air," study researcher Jianjun Yin, of the University of Arizona, said in a statement. "If you put an ice cube in a warm room, it will melt in several hours. But if you put an ice cube in a cup of warm water, it will disappear in just minutes." link

Thermal Inertia

Thermal Inertia: The primary reasons the planet is not heating up faster include oceanic thermal inertia and industrial negative aerosol forcing. This is another two edged sword. Similar to the aerosol dilemma but different in its context. In the case of oceanic thermal inertia, the good news is that because the oceans are so large, and take so much time to absorb the thermal energy, we are warming more slowly than would otherwise occur. The bad news is that the oceans not only take up heat slowly, the also dissipate heat slowly. So even if we are able to reduce the greenhouse gases in the earth atmosphere to reasonable levels (closer to 300ppm CO2) the thermal inertial of the oceans will still take quite some time to respond and cooling down the earth will take considerable time. link

December 2014: CO2 warming effects felt just a decade after being emitted. It takes just 10 years for a single emission of CO2 to have its maximum warming effects on the Earth. This is according to researchers at the Carnegie Institute for Science who have dispelled a common misconception that the main warming effects from a CO2 emission will not be felt for several decades. The results also confirm that warming can persist for more than a century and suggest that the benefits from emission reductions will be felt by those who have worked to curb the emissions and not just future generations. However, some of the bigger climate impacts from warming, such as sea-level rise, melting ice sheets and long-lasting damage to ecosystems, will have a much bigger time lag and may not occur for hundreds or thousands of years later, according to the researchers. link

March 2015: The time lag increases with the size of the emission. The recent estimate that the timing between an emission and the maximum temperature response is a decade on average, took into account uncertainties about the carbon cycle, the rate of ocean heat uptake and the climate sensitivity, but did not consider one important uncertainty: the size of the emission. Our results suggest that as CO2  accumulates in the atmosphere, the full warming effect of an emission may not be felt for several decades, if not centuries. Most of the warming, however, will emerge relatively quickly, implying that CO2  emission cuts will not only benefit subsequent generations but also the generation implementing those cuts.  link

Implications of a 40-year delay link  
How much CO2 can the oceans take up?  link

Ocean Acidification

February 2016: Ocean acidification expected to cause skeletal deformities in 50% of juvenile corals. New research shows that as more atmospheric CO2 is absorbed in the ocean, corals develop deformed and porous exoskeletons, which does not provide the support required for a long and fruitful life. Research now shows that acidification causes the corals skeletal structure to be smaller, more fragile and oddly shaped. link 

October 2013: Ocean acidification is at highest for 300 million years. The world’s oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300 million years, due to CO2 emissions. A mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned. IPSO (International Programme on the State of the Ocean) said: "This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth's known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun."  link                       
February 2010: Oceans' acidity rate is soaring, claims study. The rate at which the oceans are becoming more acidic is greater today than at any time in tens of millions of years, according to a new study. The oceans are likely to become so acidic in coming centuries that they will become uninhabitable for vast swathes of life, especially the little-studied organisms on the deep-sea floor which are a vital link in the marine food chain. link                                                                                                                                  
May 2013: The world's oceans are about 30% moere acidic than they were at the beginning 
of the Industrial Revolution because of their absorption of human-generated carbon dioxide according to the federal governmnet.  link 

October 2009: By 2100 entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic. Research carried out in the archipelago of Svalbard has shown in many regions around the north pole seawater is likely to reach corrosive levels within 10 years. The water will then start to dissolve the shells of mussels and other shellfish and cause major disruption to the food chain. Research suggests that 10% of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018; 50% by 2050. By the end of the century, the entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic.  link

August 2012: Health of oceans now measured. Marine scientists have for the first time worked out a systematic way of scoring the health of the world's oceans, in an attempt to assess how well they are coping with the pressures of overfishing, pollution and anything else that affects the well-being of the sea. The overall global score for the Earth's coastal seas is 60 points out of a possible maximum of 100, showing there is still plenty of "room for improvement", they concluded.  link
November 2009: Oceans' ability to sequester carbon diminishing. The globe's oceans are massive carbon sinks: more than a quarter of carbon emissions from humans have been sequestered by the oceans. According to a new study - the first of its kind - an annual accounting of the oceans' intake of carbon over the past 250 years suggests troubling news. According to the study, published in Nature, the oceans' ability to sequester carbon is struggling to keep-up with mankind's ever-growing emissions. link  

June 2011: World’s oceans in ‘shocking decline’.  link 

Sea level rise

April 2016: Clue to how far sea levels will rise this century
. The temperatures in the Pliocene age, 3 million years ago, are similar to the 2C warming limit set by governments in Paris last year, making this time period very useful for understanding future sea levels
. What is scary is that the best estimates for mid-Pliocene sea levels range from10 to 40 meters above present.  In other words, the geologic record would say that this amount of warming would guarantee significant sea level rise.  link

January 2015: Sea level rise accelerating. The acceleration in global sea level from the 20th century to the last two decades has been significantly larger than scientists previously thought, according to a new Harvard study. Eric Morrow from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences says: “sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others. It's a larger problem than we initially thought.” link

February 2016: The oceans are rising faster than at any point in the last 28 centuries, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are primarily responsible, scientists reported. They added that the flooding that is starting to make life miserable in many coastal towns - like Miami Beach, Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C. - was largely a consequence of those emissions, and that it is likely to grow worse in coming years.  link

See also editorials: The next 500 years of sea level rise   What rising sea-levels mean

Plastic in the oceans crisis

July 2017: World’s strongest ban on microbeads proposed. U.K. Environment Secretary in calling microbeads a “serious threat” to wildlife, pledged to explore new methods of reducing the amount of plastic, in particular plastic bottles, entering our seas. Microbeads, which can be replaced with natural alternatives, are just one type of microplastic pollution of the oceans that is causing immense concern because of the harmful effects on marine wildlife. link

June 2017: Asian nations make plastic oceans promise. At a UN oceans summit, delegates from China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines said they would work to keep plastics out of the seas. Some of the promises are not yet formalised and environmentalists say the measures proposed are not nearly urgent enough. Meeting in New York, they said it was part of a clear international shift against ocean pollution. link

March 2017: UN declares war on ocean plastic. The available data is enough for the United Nations to literally declare war on oceans plastic: more than 8 million tonnes leaks into their waters each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. The Nairobi-based UNEP launched  an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: micro-plastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022. link

December 2014: 270,000 tons of plastic floating in oceans. The most comprehensive study to date on plastic pollution around the world suggests over 5 trillion pieces of plastic, mostly “micro-plastics” measuring less than 5 cm. and weighing almost 270,000 tons are causing damage throughout the food chain. link

July 2014: Plastic fundamentally changing the composition of the oceans. A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that at least 88% of the Earth’s ocean surface is polluted with plastic debris. A large percentage of it has been (and continues to be) eaten by marine mammals of all size, including fish. The study explains that when plastic is floating around in the open ocean, waves and radiation from the sun can fragment it into smaller and smaller particles until it becomes so small that it looks like fish food. link

February 2015: Study of nations dumping plastic into oceans. In a landmark study, scientists have estimated that millions of tons of plastic waste go into the sea worldwide every year, with middle-income nations, including the Philippines, shown to be among the top contributors. Researchers from the University of Georgia calculated that out of the 275 million metric tons (MMT) of plastic waste coastal countries have produced in 2010, between 4.8 and 12.7 MMT entered the ocean. The figures were calculated by analyzing waste sources and the amount of garbage churned out by people living within 50 kilometers from the coasts of 192 countries bordering the sea, and then factoring in population density and economic status. China emerged as the top contributor followed by Indonesia. link

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

"Great Pacific Garbage Patch" - Project Kaisei is monitoring the North Pacific Gyre.
August  2009: Possible solution in sightThe second of two research ships bound for a huge "island" of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean leaves San Francisco today. Ocean currents have pushed the refuse together in an area estimated to be larger than the State of Texas. The expedition, named Project Kaisei, will study the impact of the waste on marine life. Ultimately the organisers hope to clear the plastic and recycle it for use as fuel and new products link  August 2009: Scientists have confirmed that there are millions of tonnes of plastic floating in an area of ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre.   link

October 2016: 'Great Pacific garbage patch' far bigger than imagined. The vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is far worse than prev iously thought, with an aerial survey finding a much larger mass of fishing nets, plastic containers and other discarded items than imagined. According to the UN environmental programme, the great Pacific garbage patch is growing so fast that it, like the Great Wall of China, is becoming visible from space. link

OceanCleanup.com.  Boyan Slat, a Dutch former aerospace engineering student, said his plastic-capturing concept can clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a decade. Here are two videos explaining his ideas for cleaning up the plastic already in the oceans.
Watch the 4-minute short and the
16-minute TED video.  (September 2014) The 20-year-old with a plan to rid the sea of plastic - video link    

(June 2016) Dutch prototype clean-up boom brings Pacific plastics solution a step closer -  link 

March 2017: "A Voice for the Planet" video. Plastic is used for everything these days. While plastics are very useful, they are also so cheep and prolific we have created a disposable society. Using something once, and throwing things away is creating a tremendous problem for the planet. It has to stop!  -  view

February 2008: The world's rubbish dump: a tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan. A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States. The vast expanse of debris, in effect the world's largest rubbish dump, is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan. According to UNEP (UN Environment Programme), plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Plastic is believed to constitute 90% of all rubbish floating in the oceans.  About one-fifth of the junk is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land. link

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