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The Oceans Are on the Brink of Mass Extinction

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 16, 2015

One of the rising toll of whales killed by our increasing reliance on container ships (Photo: Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

A whale killed by our increasing reliance on container ships (Photo: Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Take a look at Carl Zimmer’s disturbing story in today’s New York Times.  Here’s the lead:

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 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.

And here’s an excerpt from further down in the article:

“I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea,” said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved in the study.

There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested, but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely to accelerate as

technology advances the human footprint, the scientists reported.

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Read the whole article here.

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