Part of the problem

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So maybe we’re not that different after all. Tuesday, scientists released one of the largest studies of marine life ever undertaken. The Census of Marine Life took more than a decade to complete and includes input from more than 360 scientists in 25 regions around the world. It’s looked at whales and fish, but also plankton, crab, birds, sponges, sea worms and sea slugs, squid and sharks.

And the numbers are impressive: more than 230,000 individual species. Around 20 per cent of those are crustaceans, from crab to barnacles — another 30 per cent are fish and molluscs, while the popular ones — whales and seals and sea lions — are only about two per cent of the total.

Guess what else the study found?

“In every region, they’ve got the same story of a major collapse of what were usually very abundant fish stocks or crabs or crustaceans that are now only five to 10 per cent of what they used to be,” University of Auckland scientist Mark Costello told The Guardian.

“These are usually due to over-harvesting and poor management of those fisheries. That’s probably the biggest and most consistant threat to marine biodiversity around the world.”

The report is even more direct: “Overfishing was reported to be the greatest threat to marine biodiversity in all regions.”

Cod scientists have used the 10 per cent number to describe the health of the cod stocks around this province — a number that Costello points out can mean a marine species is headed for extinction. And overfishing in Canadian waters — and outside the 200-mile limit — has clearly destroyed a once-huge biomass.

Supporting documents also reference the damaging effects of bottom trawling on sea-floor species of flora and fauna: “Fisheries in the northeast Atlantic have a negative impact on benthic diversity, production and community structure and large parts of the area are fished five to 10 times a year.”

The census also outlines a future concern — one we’re already experiencing. “Climate change encompasses a range of environmental threats that vary geographically. They include temperature change, ocean acidification, sea-level rise and consequent changes to ocean stratification, upwellings, currents and weather patterns. Biodiversity is already responding to some of these changes and how it will change in the future is difficult to predict because of the complexity of biodiversity, from genes to species to ecosystems.”

One thing is clear: there are precious few governments and precious few fisheries where anyone can claim to have done things right when it comes to managing fish resources. As the census points out, there’s plenty of evidence that there are species that haven’t even been discovered yet — and we care so little about a holistic understanding of the impacts of our fishing industry that we’re not even effectively looking for new species any more, nor are we exploring deep water or the changes in waters we’ve fished for generations.

You could say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. 

Guess what? Turns out we’re clearly part of that problem.

And it’s cold comfort that everyone else is, too.

Organizations: University of Auckland, The Guardian

Geographic location: Atlantic

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Recent comments

  • aubrey smith
    August 05, 2010 - 20:24

    Mr. Gus Etchegary could have told you that for nothing .He's long been a prophet and soothsayer crying in the oceanic wilderness .So do we continue to allow politics to trump common sense .Nothing, absolutely nothing is inexhaustible , except for politicians seeking self gratification who are only willing to base political decisions on their personal gain meter .