Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Marine Conservation - the principal Issues!

Just in case we lose sight of the context here.
Barring cataclysmic cosmic or geological events, these are the biggest threats to marine biodiversity - once again, very simplified.

First and foremost: there are too many people!
We are seven billion now and probably we will get as high as 9 billion, both of which is just not sustainable.
Moreover, billions of people are attempting to attain what they consider to be better life conditions, meaning that their ecological footprints are increasing as they progressively consume more resources and produce more waste. Even if we managed to stabilize or even turn around population growth, this will continue to exert tremendous pressure on biodiversity.
Those are monumental challenges indeed - solutions???
These are the root causes of all that follows.

The biggest anthropogenic threats to marine biodiversity are.
  • Global Warming
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Pollution
  • Habitat Degradation
  • Overfishing including Bycatch & Discards
When it comes to Overfishing.
As far as can be ascertained, anthropogenic extinction rates so far have been substantially lower in the oceans than in terrestrial ecosystems. In fact and despite of our best efforts, there is probably not a single documented case of us having fished a marine Fish to extinction - and should there be one, it would be the exception and not the rule.
This is cause for hope.

But that's of course not the whole story.
Several Fishes have become locally extinct and the populations of many marine Fishes that have been targeted commercially are severely depleted and but a shadow of what they used to be.
There is a line of thought stipulating that those populations have accumulated extinction debt and that they could be driven into extinction by an environmental catastrophe.
That environmental catastrophe could be Global Warming.

They are obviously subjected to the same pressures.
In particular, several larger species are being severely overfished and although to my knowledge this has not been specifically documented, it also stands to reason that Shark populations will be affected by the overfishing of their direct prey or of even lower trophic levels like forage Fishes.
Some of those larger Sharks are also apex predators and keystone species and there is research documenting that their removal can ripple down through the trophic levels via cascading effects, hence exacerbating the ecological consequences of their demise.

This as far as I can see are the principal issues.
The problems are enormous and eminently intractable as documented by the frustratingly slow progress of conservation and above all, by the many conservation setbacks and defeats. Yes there have been many successes - but alas, everything points to the fact that in the big scheme of things, those successes are simply too small and the pace, simply too slow. Especially if we don't get a handle on Global Warming, the future for marine biodiversity looks very bleak indeed.

If we so wish, there is a role for each of us to play - the most basic one being that it behooves all of us who live in relative opulence to reduce our ecological footprint, including limiting our carbon emissions! And those of us who want to do more and get involved in advocacy will find unlimited opportunities to make a difference as e.g. discussed here in the case of Shark conservation.

Orgs I personally like: Shark Foundation and Save our Seas Foundation for sponsoring research; Shark Trust, Shark Savers and Shark Defenders for advocacy; Pew Environment for all of the above.

But please, let us be rational and credible.
Let's please stop the esoteric balderdash and the pseudoscience.

The sooner we do that, the sooner we will be able to effect real, positive change.

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