The oceans are among our biggest resource for life on earth, and also our biggest dumping grounds. Can anyone say identity crisis? The world seems to think we can take all the goodies out and put all of our garbage in, and then expect them to keep happily ticking away indefinitely. While it’s true the oceans can provide us with some amazing eco-solutions like alternative energy, they are undergoing some serious stress factors. Here are some big problems.

A view of how much the world consists of our oceans!

A view of how much the world consists of our oceans!

Overfishing Is Draining The Life From The Water

Overfishing is having some serious impacts on our oceans. Not only does it work towards wiping out a species, but also other species of marine animals that are dependent upon those fish for survival. It’s been shown that overfishing can cause marine animals to starve, since we’re taking food from their mouths in too large of numbers for them to be able to get their fill.

A descriptive diagram of how overfishing works against the ocean's ecosystem.

A descriptive diagram of how overfishing works against the ocean’s ecosystem.

We humans use some pretty destructive methods in how we fish, including bottom trawling which destroys sea floor habitat and scoops up many unwanted fish and animals that are tossed aside. We also pull far too many fish to be sustainable, pushing many species to the point of being listed as threatened and endangered.

Ocean’s Most Important Predators Are Being Killed

Overfishing is an issue that extends beyond familiar species like bluefin tuna and orange roughy. It’s also a serious issue with sharks. Sharks are killed in the tens of millions each year, mainly for their fins. It is a common practice to catch sharks, cut off their fins, and toss them back into the ocean where they drown. The fins are sold as an ingredient for soup. Sharks are top-of-the-food-chain predators, which means their reproduction rate is slow. Their numbers don’t bounce back easily from overfishing.

This poor hammerhead shark was finned and thrown back into the ocean to die.

This poor hammerhead shark was finned and thrown back into the ocean to die.

On top of that, their predator status also helps regulate the numbers of other species. When a major predator is taken out of the loop, it’s usually the case that species lower on the food chain start to overpopulate their habitat, creating a destructive downward spiral of the ecosystem. Shark finning is a practice that needs to end if our oceans are to maintain some semblance of balance.

Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is no small issue. The basic science behind acidification is that the ocean absorbs CO2 through natural processes. But at the rate at which we’re pumping it into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, the ocean’s pH balance is dropping to the point where life within the ocean is having trouble coping.

A before and after photo of a coral reef when attacked by ocean acidification.

A before and after photo of a coral reef when attacked by ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is expected to impact ocean species to varying degrees. Photosynthetic algae and seagrasses may benefit from higher CO2 conditions in the ocean, as they require CO2 to live just like plants on land. At some point in time, there is a tipping where the oceans become to acidic to support life that can’t quickly adjust. In other words, many species are going to be wiped out.

Dying Coral Reefs

Keeping the coral reefs healthy is another major topic. A focus on how to protect the coral reefs is important considering coral reefs support a huge amount of small sea life, which in turn supports both larger sea life and people, not only for immediate food needs but also economically.

Ocean Dead Zones

Dead zones are swaths of ocean that don’t support life due to a lack of oxygen, and global warming is a prime suspect for what’s behind the shifts in ocean behavior, that cause dead zones. The number of dead zones is growing at an alarming rate, with over 400 known to exist, and the number is expected to grow. It appears that crop biodiversity on land could help prevent dead zones in the ocean by reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizers and pesticides that run off into the the open ocean and are part of the cause of dead zones.

A photo of just some of the ocean's dead zones.

A photo of just some of the ocean’s dead zones.

What We Know: Conservation

Good old fashioned conservation efforts will also help us out. Though, looking at the big picture and the extent of the effort required, it might take a lot of gumption to stay optimistic. It’s true that conservation efforts are lagging, but that doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent. Records are even being set for how much marine area is being conserved.

 

References: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F