Scientists and experts are alarmed at amount of plastic debris and growing ‘dead zones’ in the world’s oceans.A drumbeat of recent scientific studies emphasises an increasingly alarming convergence of crises for Earth’s oceans.
The amount of plastic floating in the Pacific Gyre – a massive swirling vortex of rubbish – has increased 100-fold in the past four decades, phytoplankton counts are dropping, over-fishing is causing dramatic decreases in fish populations, decreasing ocean salinity is intensifying weather extremes, and warming oceans are speeding up Antarctic melting.
One warning of humanity’s increasingly deleterious impact on the oceans came from prominent marine biologist Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
In a 2008 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jackson warned that, without profound and prompt changes in human behaviour, we will cause a “mass extinction in the oceans with unknown ecological and evolutionary consequences”.
The statement might sound extreme, until one considers what science journalist Alanna Mitchell has written about the oceans: “Every tear you cry … ends up back in the ocean system. Every third molecule of carbon dioxide you exhale is absorbed into the ocean. Every second breath you take comes from the oxygen produced by plankton.”
These and other issues will be discussed at the Rio 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainability, which will be held between June 20 and 22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
But marine biologists, oceanographers, and others who study the seas are telling Al Jazeera of the deepening impact humans are having on the oceans, and, from what they are saying, now is the time to listen.