World Oceans Day is June 8

Top 11 issues affecting our Oceans!

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It is not very often everyone agrees on anything. Remarkably, the world’s top scientists and marine researchers virtually all agree on the issues facing our oceans health, and the demands being placed on what is arguably life’s greatest resource on the planet. Here are 11 of the top issues facing the health of our oceans, and our planet.

The oceans are among our biggest resource for life on earth, and also our biggest dumping grounds. That kind of paradox could give anyone an identity crisis. We seem to think we can take all the goodies out and put all our garbage in, and then expect them to keep happily ticking away indefinitely. However, while it's true the oceans can provide us with some amazing eco-solutions like alternative energy, they're are undergoing some serious stress factors. Here are the some of the biggest problems facing the oceans. Making changes in our daily lives often starts with awareness. Solutions are as simple as eating the right sort of seafood, to ensuring garbage stays out of our waterways and Oceans.

1) Overfishing

Many marine scientists consider overfishing to be the worst impact humans are having on the oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 70% of the world’s fish species have been entirely exploited or depleted. By capturing fish faster than they can reproduce, we are harming entire ecosystems that interact with those species, from the food they eat to the predators that eat them. These losses make the ecosystems more vulnerable to other disturbances, such as pollution. A complete overhaul of fishing policies, requiring global cooperation, is needed to achieve a sustainable system.Overfishing is having some serious impacts on our oceans. Not only does it work towards wiping out a species, but also the other species of marine animals that are dependent upon those fish for survival. It's been shown that overfishing can cause marine animals to starve, since we're taking food from their mouths in too large of numbers for them to be able to get their fill. It is also estimated that most seas already need long term fishing bans if certain species are to recover at all.

There is much to be desired in the ways we fish. First, we humans use some pretty destructive methods in how we pull catches, including bottom trawling which destroys sea floor habitat and scoops up many unwanted fish and animals that are tossed aside. We also pull far too many fish to be sustainable, pushing many species to the point of being listed as threatened and endangered.

Reasons for overfishing are obvious in some ways, in that there are a lot of people who like to eat a lot of fish. The more fish, the more money for the fishermen. However there are other elements at work that promote overfishing that are less obvious, such as promoting the health benefits of one fish over another, or the health of fish oils.

Knowledge of what seafood can be sustainably eaten, whether that is the species of seafood or the method by which it is caught, is a must in order to help keep the ocean's fisheries healthy. It's our job as eaters to question restaurant servers, sushi chefs, and seafood purveyors about the sources of their fish, and read labels when we buy from store shelves. There are helpful tools that can assist us in buying and ordering seafood as well, from handouts to carry in our wallets to FishPhone. And of course there are our sustainable seafood slideshows that will show you what you want to look for when you're choosing your next meal, and what to avoid.

Source: Tree Hugger

2) Irresponsible Fish Farming

Fish farming, or aquaculture, is the growing response to wild fish stocks rapidly depleting. While it sounds like a good idea in theory, it unfortunately has many negative consequences due to poorly managed operations. Nutrient and chemical pollution can occur easily in open-ocean operations when fish feed, excrement, and medication is released into the environment. Farmed fish accidentally released into wild populations can also have destructive effects, such as loss of native stocks, disease transmission, and damaging changes in habitat. Unfortunately, the biggest hindrance to overcoming the challenges of an industry that supplies nearly 50% of the world’s fish food supply is that it currently remains relatively unregulated.

3) Ghost Fishing

Ghost fishing is an environmentally harmful issue caused when lost or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish and other marine life. Often times, the traps trigger a chain-reaction problem when larger predators come to eat the smaller ones that have been ensnared, only to get tangled in the mess themselves. The issue of ghost fishing is most common with passive gear that has been abandoned, and also poses a serious threat to other ocean vessels. Stray gear can be caught in the propeller of a boat, damaging or even disabling it. Many solutions have been offered, such as fishing gear made from biodegradable materials or incentives like the Republic of Korea’s buy-back program , which rewards fisherman for turning in old gear.

4) Garbage

6 Garbage Patches in our oceans. This one is the most obvious. It’s astounding how much of our trash finds its way into the ocean. Animals become easily entangled and trapped in our garbage, and it can destroy delicate sea life like coral and sponges. In addition, sea turtles and dolphins often mistake plastic bags for their favorite foods, jellyfish and squids, choking them or clogging their digestive system. If that’s not bad enough, hopefully the bigger-than-Texas trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean and its smaller cousin in the Atlantic will help serve as a wakeup call. One more depressing one before we move on to something fun and exciting. We certainly can't ignore a giant patch of plastic soup the size of Texas sitting smack dab in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

Taking a look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a sobering way to realize there is no "away" when it comes to trash, especially trash that lacks the ability to decompose. The patch was discovered by Captain Charles Moore , who has been actively vocal about it ever since.

Luckily, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch getting a lot of attention from eco-organizations, including Project Kaisei, which is launching the first clean-up effort and experimentation, and David de Rothschild who will sail a boat made of plastic out to the patch to bring awareness to it.

Article: Clean Our Oceans: The Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

This article was sent to us by David, a student in Colorado, USA. Thank You David.

Please see map of 6 Garbage Patches in our oceans:

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5) Acidification

The ocean absorbs as much as one third of the CO2 emitted worldwide, which keeps us cooler but makes the ocean surface much more acidic. This has the effect of limiting calcium carbonate needed by coral, plankton, and other marine life that use it to build the skeletal frames and shells that protect them. Oceanic acidity has increased by 25% since the industrial revolution, and will eventually destroy much marine life if it increases at this rate.

Ocean acidification is no small issue. The basic science behind acidification is that the ocean absorbs CO2 through natural processes, but at the rate at which we're pumping it into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, the ocean's pH balance is dropping to the point where life within the ocean is having trouble coping.

"Ocean acidification is more rapid than ever in the history of the earth and if you look at the pCO2 (partial pressure of carbon dioxide) levels we have reached now, you have to go back 35 million years in time to find the equivalents" said Jelle Bijma, chair of the EuroCLIMATE programme Scientific Committee and a biogeochemist at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute Bremerhaven.

Freaky, right? At some point in time, there is a tipping point where the oceans become to acidic to support life that can't quickly adjust. In other words, many species are going to be wiped out , from shellfish to corals and the fish that depend on them.

6) Dead Zones

Dead zones are areas where the sea floor has little to no dissolved oxygen. These areas are often found at the mouths of large rivers, and are caused primarily by fertilizers that are being carried in the runoff. Unfortunately, the lack of oxygen kills many creatures and destroys entire habitats. At our current rate, dead zones will increase by 50% before the end of the century. Dead zones are swaths of ocean that don't support life due to a lack of oxygen, and global warming is a prime suspect for what's behind the shifts in ocean behavior that cause dead zones. The number of dead zones is growing at an alarming rate , with over 400 known to exist , and the number is expected to grow .

Dead zone research underscores the interconnectedness of our planet. It appears that crop biodiversity on land could help prevent dead zones in the ocean by reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizers and pesticides that run off into the open ocean and are part of the cause of dead zones. Knowing what we dump into the oceans is important in being aware of our role in creating areas of lifelessness in an ecosystem upon which we depend.

7) Mercury Pollution

Scientists report that our ocean’s mercury levels have risen over 30% the last 20 years, and will increase another 50% in the next few decades. Emissions from coal power plants are the primary culprit , dispensing poisonous mercury that works its way up the food chain, eventually coming to us through the fish we eat. This neurotoxin can alter brain development of fetuses and has been linked with learning problems. Pollution is running rampant in the oceans but one of the scariest pollutants is mercury because, well, it ends up on the dinner table. The worst part is mercury levels in the oceans are predicted to rise . So where does the mercury come from? You can probably guess. Mainly coal plants. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, coal-fired power plants are the largest industrial source of mercury pollution in the country. And, mercury has already contaminated water bodies in all 50 states, let alone our oceans. The mercury is absorbed by organisms on the bottom of the food chain and as bigger fish eat bigger fish, it works its way back up the food chain right to us, most notably in the form of tuna .

You can calculate how much tuna you can safely eat , and while the though that calculating your fish intake to avoid poisoning is really depressing, at least we're aware of the dangers so that we can, hopefully, straighten up our act.

8) Offshore Drilling

Offshore drilling continues to be a debate, but it’s clear that proceeding with oil production will only exacerbate the dilemmas of our oceans. The use of fossil fuels is the reason our oceans have been heating up and becoming more acidic, but offshore drilling takes the risks even further. When oil is extracted from the ocean floor, other chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead come up with it. Also, the seismic waves used to find oil harm aquatic mammals and disorient whales. In 2008, 100 whales had beached themselves as a result of ExxonMobil exploring for oil with these techniques. Furthermore, the infrastructure projects to transport the oil often create worse problems, eroding the coastline. These realities are another reason

9) Whaling and Shark Finning

The destruction of the ocean’s most important predators has significant consequences that ripple down the food chain. 50 to 100 million sharks are killed each year, either as bycatch from fishing vessels or directly hunted for their dorsal fins, used in an expensive soup popular across Asia. When finned, the sharks are thrown back into the water, often still alive and left to bleed to death. Unfortunately, sharks reproduce fairly slowly and don’t have a large amount of offspring, so these actions have long-lasting effects on the delicate ecosystems they help regulate. Despite the 1986 moratorium on many types of whaling, it still continues to be a problem, with some nations like Japan looking for loopholes and lobbying for lax regulations. Overfishing is an issue that extends beyond familiar species like bluefin tuna and orange roughy. It's also a serious issue with sharks. Sharks are killed in the tens of millions each year , mainly for their fins. It is a common practice to catch sharks, cut off their fins, and toss them back into the ocean where they are left to die. The fins are sold as an ingredient for soup. And the waste is extraordinary.

Sharks are top-of-the-food-chain predators, which means their reproduction rate is slow. Their numbers don't bounce back easily from overfishing. On top of that, their predator status also helps regulate the numbers of other species. When a major predator is take out of the loop, it's usually the case that species lower on the food chain start to overpopulate their habitat, creating a destructive downward spiral of the ecosystem.

Shark finning is a practice that needs to end if our oceans are to maintain some semblance of balance. Luckily, a growing awareness around the unsustainability of the practice is helping to lower the popularity of shark fin soup .

10) Ocean Warming

The oceans are rising and getting warmer faster than predicted. 71% of our planet is covered by oceans, yet we still neglect them, harming the innumerable creatures that live in them, and polluting one of our largest resources.

In the fight for the environment, the health of our oceans should be a top priority. Global warming is creating a climate time bomb by storing enormous amounts of heat in the waters of the north Atlantic, UK scientists have discovered.

Marine researchers at Southampton and Plymouth universities have found that the upper 1,500 metres of the ocean from western Europe to the eastern US have warmed by 0.015C in seven years. The capacity of the oceans to store heat means that a water temperature rise of that size is enough to warm the atmosphere above by almost 9C.

Neil Wells, a scientist on the project at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton, said: "People might think it doesn't sound like a big temperature rise but it's very significant." The findings were announced in the journal Geophysical Research Letters as James Lovelock, the UK scientist who developed the gaia theory of life on Earth, warned that such ocean warming could stifle marine life and accelerate climate change.

Professor Lovelock said that thermal mixing of water and nutrients shuts down when the upper layer of ocean water reaches about 12C. "That's why the tropical waters are clear blue and the water in the Arctic looks like soup," he said. Such a change would affect marine life, which research suggests could help form clouds over the oceans. Warmer waters would receive less protection from sunlight, which would warm them further.

The Southampton and Plymouth study suggests heat stored in the oceans could be released into the atmosphere in future, tempering efforts to stabilize global temperatures with cuts in manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

11) Destruction of Habitat and Coral Reefs

Keeping the coral reefs healthy is another major buzz topic right now. A focus on how to protect the coral reefs is important considering coral reefs support a huge amount of small sea life, which in turn supports both larger sea life and people, not only for immediate food needs but also economically .

Global warming is a primary cause of coral bleaching, but there are other causes as well. Science is working on ways , but it also is a matter of setting aside marine conservation areas. Figuring out ways to protect this "life support system" is a must for the overall health of the oceans.

References: Tree Hugger