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       OCEANS - CORAL REEFS 

     (Also plastic pollution in the oceans)

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

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              
           

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Latest news:

Oct. 14 2016: The Great Barrier Reef is very sick. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living structure, is seriously injured and slowly dying, according  to Climate Council, an advocacy organization. In a video, Climate Council said the reef is still damaged months after record high ocean temperatures caused a bleaching event that affected some 93% of the reef. link

Oct 4 2016: 'Great Pacific garbage patch' far bigger than imagined. The vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is far worse than previously 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

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       Below:

  • The Oceans - the effect of CO2 on the oceans
  • Sea-level rise
  • Coral reefs - their purpose for the ecosystem, how they're vanishing, how sunscreen adds to their  demise.
  • Plastic in the oceans - 'Great Pacific garbage patch'
The Oceans

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: 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

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

October 2013: Ocean acidification due to carbon emissions is at highest for 300m 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

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

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  

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  

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

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. Some areas with the lowest scores, such as the coastal waters off the troubled West African state of Sierra Leone, which scored 36, failed in almost every one of the 10 measures the scientists used to assess the health of the sea.  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. Rapidly rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mean that the rate of ocean acidification is the fastest since the age of the dinosaurs, which became extinct 65m years ago, scientists believe. 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 (Picture: coral bleaching in Kuwaiti waters.)  The world's oceans are about 30% more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution because of their absorption of human-generated carbon dioxide, according to the federal government. link  

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  

October 2009: By 2100 entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic. Carbon-dioxide emissions are turning the waters of the Arctic Ocean into acid at an unprecedented rate, scientists have discovered. 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

As the oceans acidify, shells will simply dissolve. The growth of coral reefs will slow, and their structural integrity would be weakened, making them more vulnerable to storms and erosion. That would be a catastrophic loss. The list of potential long-term effects to oceanic life is only beginning to be explored. Scientists have understood ocean acidification for a long time. But what they are learning now is how quickly it is increasing, in step with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. New studies show that if carbon dioxide emissions continue at current rates, shells and corals could begin to dissolve especially in the southern oceans - within 30 years. link 

June 2011: World’s oceans in ‘shocking decline’. The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists. They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognized. In a new report, they warn that ocean life is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history". The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity. 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

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 Monday. 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

Coral Reefs

Why Coral reefs are important. Beyond their intrinsic value and their role as a breeding ground for many of the ocean's fish and other species, coral reefs provide human societies with resources and services worth many billions of dollars each year. Millions of people and thousands of communities all over the world depend on coral reefs for food, protection, and jobs. These numbers are especially staggering considering that coral reefs cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface.

April 2016: Australia's Great Barrier Reef: 93% of reefs hit by bleaching. Almost 93% of reefs have been hit by coral bleaching, according to a comprehensive survey revealing the full extent of the devastation caused by abnormally warm ocean temperatures sweeping the globe. There have only been three mass bleaching events recorded on the reef, and all of them have happened since 1998. Scientists say this episode is the worst they’ve ever seen. link
October 2012: Great Barrier Reef loses more than 50% of its coral cover.   link

The coral reef structure also buffers shorelines against waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion. Several million people live in U.S. coastal areas adjacent to or near coral reefs, and the well-being of their communities and economies is directly dependent on the health of nearby coral reefs. Finally, coral reefs are sometimes called the “medicine cabinets” of the 21st century. Coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases. link  

April 2016: Dead coral reefs could mark beginning of ‘dangerous’ climate change. Abnormally warm water temperatures around the island of Kiritimati in the Pacific Ocean, more than a thousand miles south of Hawaii, have plagued the region for months causing widespread coral bleaching, disease and even some coral death as a result. A recent expedition has revealed that the reefs around Kiritimati have suffered a catastrophic mass die-off, an event that epitomizes what may be an ugly truth about the ability of coral reefs around the world to adapt to the growing threat of climate change. The team estimates that about 80% of all the coral around the island are now dead. In a matter of months what was one of the healthiest reefs in the world could just be dramatically transformed into a graveyard.  link  

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 published in the journal Science Advances, now shows that acidification causes the corals skeletal structure to be smaller, more fragile and oddly shaped. link 

September 2015: World’s reef system could soon succumb to climate changeThe Worldwide Fund has painted a bleak picture of the state of the world’s oceans: marine populations, including reef ecosystems, have halved in size since 1970 and some species are teetering on the brink of extinction. Coral reef cover has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and reefs could disappear by as early as 2050, the report says, if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue. WWF estimates that 850 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their food security - a mass die-off could trigger conflict and human migration on a massive scale. link  

Renowned naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, joined scientists to warn that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above the level which condemns coral reefs to extinction in the future, with catastrophic effects for the oceans and the people who depend upon them. "A coral reef is the canary in the cage as far as the oceans are concerned," said Attenborough. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life all including more than 4,000 species of fish. They also provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for creatures such as lobsters, crabs, starfish and sea turtles. This makes them crucial in supporting a healthy marine ecosystem upon which more than 1bn people depend for food.  link            

Coral reefs disappearing

August 2013: Caribbean has lost 80% of its coral reef cover in recent years. A major survey of the coral reefs of the Caribbean is expected to reveal the extent to which one of the world's biggest and most important reserves of coral has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation. As much as 80% of Caribbean coral is reckoned to have been lost in recent years. Loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the Caribbean, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. link
September 2012: Caribbean coral reefs are on the verge of collapse. link

October 2010: Scientists say Asia's corals dying en masse.  Coral reefs in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean are dying from the worst bleaching effect in more than a decade triggered by warmer waters. "It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1988. It may prove to be the worst such event known to science," said researcher Andrew Baird from James Cook University.  link 

How global warming sealed the fate of the world's coral reefs.

September 2009: A report from the Australian government agency that looks after the nation's Great Barrier Reef reported that "the overall outlook for the reef is poor and catastrophic damage to the ecosystem may not be averted". The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble, and it is not the only one. The tropical coral reef looks like it will enter the history books as the first major ecosystem wiped out by our love of cheap energy.  Within just a few decades, experts are warning, the tropical reefs strung around the middle of our planet like a jewelled corset will reduce to rubble. Giant piles of slime-covered rubbish will litter the sea bed and spell in large distressing letters for the rest of foreseeable time: 'Humans Were Here'. 

The future is horrific," says Charlie Veron, an Australian marine biologist who is widely regarded as the world's foremost expert on coral reefs. "There is no hope of reefs surviving to even mid-century in any form that we now recognise. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world's marine biodiversity. Then there is a domino effect, as reefs fail so will other ecosystems. This is the path of a mass extinction event, when most life, especially tropical marine life, goes extinct."  link

April 2012: Corals could survive a more acidic ocean. Corals may be better placed to cope with the gradual acidification of the world’s oceans than previously thought.  An international scientific team has identified a powerful internal mechanism that could enable some corals and their symbiotic algae to counter the adverse impact of a more acidic ocean. As humans release ever-larger amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, besides warming the planet, the gas is also turning the world's oceans more acidic at rates thought to far exceed those seen during past major extinctions of life. Groundbreaking research has shown that some marine organisms that form calcium carbonate skeletons have an in-built mechanism to cope with ocean acidification which others appear to lack. link

October 2009: 'Freezer plan' bid to save coral.  The prospects of saving the world's coral reefs now appear so bleak that plans are being made to freeze samples to preserve them for the future. A meeting in Denmark took evidence from researchers that most coral reefs will not survive even if tough regulations on greenhouse gases are put in place. Scientists proposed storing samples of coral species in liquid nitrogen. That will allow them to be reintroduced to the seas in the future if global temperatures can be stabilised. Legislators from 16 major economies have been meeting in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, to try to agree the way forward on climate change. link

File:Blue Linckia Starfish.JPG

September 2013: 50% of coral reefs destroyed in past 30 years - decline accelerating. - link

May 2009: Coral triangle disappearing fast.  The world's most important coral region is in danger of being wiped out by the end of this century unless fast action is taken, according to a new report by WWF (World Wildlife Fund) which warns that 40% of reefs in the Coral Triangle have already been lost. The area is shared between Indonesia and five other South East Asian nations and is thought to contain 75% of the world's coral species. The Coral Triangle covers 1% of the earth's surface but contains a third of all the world's coral, and three-quarters of its coral reef species.  link  

Sunscreen threat to coral reefs.

May 2008: According to estimates, 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen are released in tropical reef areas every year by about 78 million tourists visiting those reefs. Researchers warn that up to 10% of the world's coral reefs might be at risk. The researchers from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, have found evidence that sunscreens are to blame for coral bleaching. This loss of colour in the corals through the stress-induced release of symbiotic unicellular algae has negative impacts on biodiversity and functioning of reef ecosystems. 
Sierra Club notes five selections to protect the oceans:  link

How a common chemical (oxybenzone) is damaging coral reefs - link
Cousteau Foundation names its ideal sunscreen to protect coral reefs from damage.


The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is the only international organization 
working exclusively to save coral reefs. link

Plastic in the oceans - 'Great Pacific garbage patch'

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

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. 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 

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

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

"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. more
This Newsweek article looks at possible solutions.   

                  

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