North-South Divide Again Clouds Biodiversity Talks


By Stephen Leahy

NAGOYA, Japan, Oct 19, 2010 (IPS)

The accelerating destruction of natural habitats will take millions of years to recover from, scientists have warned.

This may be the last chance to apply the brakes, Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, reminded delegates representing the 193 member countries of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“This meeting is being held to address a very simple fact: we are destroying life on this Earth,” Steiner said at the opening plenary meeting Monday. “It is absolutely essential that nations work together here.”

Ryu Matsumoto, Japan’s environment minister, warned that the world was about to reach a threshold where the loss of biodiversity would become irreversible.

“We’re now close to a tipping point on biodiversity,” he said. “We may cross that in the next 10 years.”

With 16,000 participants, the Oct. 18-29 gathering is by far the biggest international meeting on biodiversity. The term biodiversity refers to the variety of plants, animals and other species that provide a wide range of services to humanity.

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Locally-Run Protected Areas Could Reverse Fisheries’ Death Spiral

 

Great Barracuda and Jacks, Diamond Rock, Saba,...
Image via Wikipedia

 

One third of all species of sharks, rays and reef-building corals are facing extinction while governments spend $27 billion subsidizing overfishing

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 15, 2010 (IPS)

Local fishers objected to the creation of a new no-fishing marine protected area off the coast of Belize in 1996. Today they are benefiting from the bounty of fish spilling out of the Laughing Bird Caye National Park. Tourism has also boomed, illustrating the multiple benefits and value of marine protected areas, according to a new series of reports released Wednesday by Conservation International (CI).

“The ocean is in crisis but we can’t see it with our own eyes so we’re not aware of what is happening,” said Leah Bunce Karrer, co-author and director of the Marine Management Area Science Programme at CI.

“Marine managed areas offer a solution which could significantly reduce ocean degradation while benefiting local communities,” Karrer told IPS.

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One third of all species of sharks, rays and reef-building corals are facing extinction. “Most people don’t realise that,” said Gregory Stone, chief ocean scientist at CI.

“As species disappear, entire ecosystems are altered in negative ways we don’t even want to imagine,” Stone said.

Only a fraction of one percent of the world’s oceans are effectively protected even though there is growing scientific consensus of the need to protect at least 20 percent of the seas. Continue reading

Oceans on the Brink: Dying Plankton, Dead Zones, Acidification

A number of marine diatom cells

By Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Jul 31, 2010 IPS

The oceans are the lifeblood of our planet and plankton its red blood cells. Those vital “red blood cells” have declined more than 40 percent since 1950 and the rate of decline is increasing due to climate change, scientists reported this week.

Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries,” said

Boris Worm of Canadas Dalhousie University and one of the worlds leading experts on the global oceans.

“An ocean with less phytoplankton will function differently,” said Worm, the co-author of a new study on plankton published this week in Nature. Plankton are the equivalent of grass, trees and other plants that make land green, says study co-author Marlon Lewis, an oceanographer at Dalhousie.

“It is frightening to realise we have lost nearly half of the oceans’ green plants,” Lewis told IPS.

“It looks like the rate of decline is increasing,” he said.

A large phytoplankton bloom in the Northeast Atlantic -NASA Earth Observatory Collection.

[See also my series of articles on ocean acidification]

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Climate change is warming the oceans about 0.2C per decade on average. This warmer water tends to stay on top because it is lighter and essentially sits on top of a layer of colder water. This layering, or stratification, is a problem for light-loving plankton because they can only live in the top 100 to 200 meters.

Eventually they run out of nutrients to feed on unless the cold, deeper waters mix with those near the surface. Ocean stratification has been widely observed in the past decade and is occurring in more and larger areas of the world’s oceans. Continue reading

What if our air was 30% more acidic like the Oceans? May be 120% more acidic by 2060

Bleached coastal corals. Bantry Bay, Australia. R Leahy 2006

[2°C is a death sentence for corals scientists agree due to ocean acidification and bleaching resulting from emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However the developed nations of the world have set 2 degrees C as the climate stabilization target not that any of them have figured out how to reach this target. It is as if the oceans don’t matter. This reflects a fundamental ignorance about life on Earth, an assumption that we can lose or seriously damage entire ecosystems without suffering any consequences.

This story shows we need to get serious about tackling emission reductions (below 2C) and preserving anything that sequesters or traps carbon because these will be tremendously valuable in a climate-changed world . — Steve

By Stephen Leahy*

COPENHAGEN, Dec 11 (IPS/TerraViva)

What would it be like if the air we breathe was 30 percent more acidic? The oceans are already 30 percent more acidic, and on their way to becoming 120 percent more acidic in 50 years at the current rates of carbon dioxide emissions.

Acidification is already affecting coral reefs, algae and plankton, the base of many marine food chains, according to a new report released here by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“In the last 10 years, the growth of coral reefs in many areas has declined 15 percent,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

“That’s a dramatic shift,” Lundin told TerraViva.

The oceans absorb some carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, but the vast quantity being emitted – mainly from the burning of fossil fuels – has altered basic ocean chemistry, turning it sour. That’s also affecting shell-forming plankton and disrupting the growth rates of other species, Lundin said.

The stated goal of many countries to stabilise global temperatures within an increase of no more than 2.0 degrees C. is still “a death sentence for most coral reefs”, he said. The 2.0 C. target implies a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of 450 parts per million (ppm), well up from the historical average of 280 ppm. Continue reading

Dwindling Fish Catch Could Leave a Billion Hungry

red snapper -- reef fish w teethBy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 9 (IPS)

Without action on climate change “The collapse of fisheries in much of the world would be a sideshow,” Daniel Pauly.

Fish catches are expected to decline dramatically in the world’s tropical regions because of climate change, but may increase in the north, said a new study published Thursday.

This mega-shift in ocean productivity from south to north over the next three to four decades will leave those most reliant on fish for both food and income high and dry.

“The shift is already happening, we’ve been measuring it for the last 20 years,” said Daniel Pauly, a renowned fisheries expert at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“Major shifts in fish populations will create a host of changes in ocean ecosystems likely resulting in species loss and problems for the people who now catch them,” Pauly told IPS.

In the first major study to examine the effects of climate change on ocean fisheries, a team of researchers from UBC and Princeton University discovered that catch potential will fall 40 percent in the tropics and may increase 30 to 70 percent in high latitude regions, affecting ocean food supply throughout the world by 2055.

The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, examined the impacts of rising ocean temperatures, changes in salinity and currents resulting from a warming climate. Continue reading

Extraordinary Abundance of Life in Oceans Past

trophy fish 2007By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 26 (IPS) – Imagine large pods of mighty blue whales and orcas darkening the waters off Cornwall, England, while closer to shore blue sharks and thresher sharks chase herds of harbour porpoise and dolphins.

Pure fantasy? No, in fact that extraordinary abundance of marine life off the English coast was the norm for oceans around the world not so long ago, researchers have now documented.

And then humans began to mine the seas of anything worth eating.

“The impact of fishing over the centuries is far larger than anyone thought,” said Poul Holm, a professor at Trinity College in Dublin and global chair of the History of Marine Animals Population (HMAP) project which part of the 10-year Census of Marine Life.

While many valuable species have been fished out in recent years, that has been happening for hundreds of years around the world based on nine years of research by hundreds of experts.

“In looking back 500 to 2,000 years ago, you get a real sense of the impacts of fishing and the cascading effects on marine ecosystems, some of which may be beyond recovery,” Holm told IPS. Continue reading

Deep CO2 Cuts May Be Last Hope for Acid Oceans

(Report from the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia)

gbr cap mushroom death4By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 15 (IPS) –

Ocean acidification offers the clearest evidence of dangers of climate change.

And yet the indisputable fact that burning fossil fuels is slowly turning the oceans into an acid bath has been largely ignored by industrialised countries and their climate treaty negotiators, concluded delegates from 76 countries at the World Oceans Conference in Manado, Indonesia.

Oceans and coastal areas must be on the agenda at the crucial climate talks in Copenhagen in December, they wrote in a declaration. “We must come to the rescue of the oceans,” declared Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the opening of high-level government talks on Thursday in the northern city of Manado.

It is fair to say most international climate negotiators aren’t aware of the impacts of climate change on the oceans, said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

“Very few people understand that carbon emissions are making the oceans acidic,” Lundin told IPS.

Continue reading