WASHINGTON (AP) — The health of the world’s oceans is declining much faster
than originally thought — under siege from pollution, overfishing and other
man-made problems all at once — scientists say in a new report.
The mix of interacting ingredients is in place for a mass extinction in the
world’s oceans, said a report by a top panel of scientists that will be
presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.
The report says the troubles from global warming and other factors are worse
when they combine with each other. Factors include dead zones from farm
run-off, an increase in acidity from too much carbon dioxide, habitat
destruction and melting sea ice, along with overfishing.
"Things seem to be going wrong on several different levels,” said Carl
Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for
Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the
International Programme on the State of the Ocean. The conclusions follow an
international meeting this spring in England to discuss the fate of the
Some of the changes affecting the world’s seas — all of which have been
warned about individually in the past — are happening faster than the worst
case scenarios that were predicted just a few years ago, the report said.
“It was a more dire report than any of us thought because we look at our own
little issues,” Lundin said in an interview. “When you put them all
together, it’s a pretty bleak situation.”
The combination of problems suggests there’s a brewing worldwide die-off of
species that would rival past mass extinctions, scientists said in the
document. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction,
according to study chief author Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford. A
single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical
Lundin pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and
called it “really unprecedented.”
“We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as
coral reefs, within a single generation,” the report said.
“Multiple high intensity” factors also led to the previous five mass
extinction events in the past 600 million years, the scientists note.
The chief causes for extinctions at the moment are overfishing and habitat
loss, but global warming is “increasingly adding to this,” the report said.
Carbon dioxide from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels ends up
sinking in the ocean which then becomes more acidic. Warmer ocean
temperatures also are shifting species from their normal habitats, Rogers
said. Add to that melting sea ice and glaciers.
Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea
creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce
back from problems — such as oil spills — like they used to, scientists
However, Lundin said, “Some of these things are reversible if we change our
A separate study released Monday, unrelated to the international project,
provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming.
It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past
century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it
adds up over decades, according to the study based on sediment cores from
North Carolina marshes. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
Online: State of
the Ocean report: http://bit.ly/kXHKOM