Mounting evidence that human activity is changing the world's oceans in profound and damaging ways is outlined in a new scientific discussion paper released today.
Man-made carbon emissions "are affecting marine biological processes from genes to ecosystems over scales from rock pools to ocean basins, impacting ecosystem services and threatening human food security," the study by Professor Mike Kingsford of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University and colleague Dr Andrew Brierley of St Andrews University, Scotland, warns.
Their review, published in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, says that rates of physical change in the oceans are unprecedented in some cases, and change in ocean life is likely to be equally quick.
These include changes in the areas fish and other sea species can inhabit, invasions, extinctions and major shifts in marine ecosystems.
"In the past, the boundaries between geological ages are marked by sudden losses of species. We may now be entering a new age in which climate change and other human-caused factors such as fishing are the major threats for the oceans and their life," Andrew and Mike say.
"Given how essential the oceans are to how our entire planet functions it is vital that we intervene before more tipping points are passed and the oceans go down the sort of spiral of decline we have seen in the world's tropical forests and rangelands, for example."
Man-made carbon emissions are now above the 'worst case' scenario envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), causing the most rapid global warming seen since the peak of the last Ice Age. At the same time the carbon is acidifying the oceans, with harmful consequences for certain plankton and shellfish.
"At current emission rates it is possible we will pass the critical level of 450 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere by 2040. That's the
|Contact: Michael Kingsford|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies