A new scientific paper says eight urgent and simultaneous actions are needed to head off ecological disaster, and that failure to undertake these actions in the next ten years will lead to ecological catastrophe and disruption of human civilisation.

Any doubt about the importance of the ocean for supporting ecosystems and human wellbeing should be dispelled by the study, published today in the journal Aquatic Conservation.

The Paper says: “We are witnessing an increase in ocean heat, disturbance, acidification, bio-invasions and nutrients, and reducing oxygen. Several of these act like ratchets: once detrimental or negative changes have occurred, they may lock in place and may not be reversible, especially at gross ecological and ocean process scales.”

The paper came out of a workshop held at the Royal Geographical Society in London in December 2018, convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) co-lead Professor Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN. Experts from marine science, law, policy, and finance reviewed and synthesised the findings of 131 peer-reviewed scientific papers on ocean change (120 from the past 5 years) in order to assess changes occurring and the consequences of inaction.

They found that some of the harmful changes taking place in the ocean, including warming, sea level rise, release of heat back into the atmosphere, and low levels of oxygen, are occurring at a much faster rate than even recent models predicted.

Lead Author Professor Dan Laffoley said: “Marine life is threatened with suffocation, starvation, overheating and acid corrosion under current climate impacts. The situation is only getting worse.  We need to act on climate change but also, urgently build resilience. All life on Earth is at risk from ocean collapse. This paper sets out eight practical, but ambitious steps that need to be implemented simultaneously in order to help prevent that.

Co-author and MBA Research Fellow Philip (Chris) Reid said: “The panel of authors unanimously identified global warming as the primary factor affecting the ocean and that we urgently need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the world does not warm beyond 1.5°C above the level of the 19th century. We have known that CO2 is a key greenhouse gas for over a century and it is ~40 years since the remarkable projection, using a simple model, of CO2 levels by 2000 that are close to present by James Hansen in 1981 and his prognosis of a world that will be ~3°C warmer for a doubling of CO2. Warming of this level is what many modellers and scientist now believe is likely by 2100 if we do not change the way we live – a dangerous world. Globally politicians are failing to address this urgent issue for the future of humanity and the ocean.

The eight actions are:

1. address climate change – implement policies to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, but prepare for a 2–3°C temperature rise;  

2. fully protect and effectively manage with Marine Protected Areas (MPA) one-third of the ocean;

3. enforce existing standards for effective marine protected areas (MPAs), and in particular fully-protected marine reserves, and extend their scope to fully protect at least 30% of the ocean, including representation of all habitats and the high seas, while ensuring effective management to prevent significant adverse effects for 100% of the rest of the ocean;

4. Adopt a precautionary approach with a moratorium on deep-sea mining

5. end overfishing and destructive practices including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;

6. radically reduce marine water pollution, including inputs of nitrogen fertilisers, industrial effluents and sewage as well as plastics;

7. provide a financing mechanism for ocean management and protection; and tax unsustainable activities to remove costs to the global commons and fund innovation and adaptation;

8. scale-up scientific research and monitoring of the ocean and increase transparency and accessibility of ocean data from all sources (i.e. science, government, industry). Increasing the understanding of heat absorption and heat release from the sea to the atmosphere should be a research priority. The UN Decade of Ocean Science beginning in 2021 is a key opportunity to achieve this step change.

Read the press release

The report is available from the Aquatic Conservation website.

Jul 26, 2019 By guba