The Truth About Sunscreens and Coral Reefs

By Jean-Michel Cousteau

It’s often called ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences’. The simple explanation for this law is when we do something we believe is good or helpful but there is a counter, unexpected reaction that is not always so good.

That is exactly the case with human sunscreens and the increasingly degraded coral reefs in our oceans. No one can contest that sunscreens are a vital means of protecting our skin from sunburn and skin cancers. We are more aware than ever about the dangerous effects of UVA and UVB rays, and the bronzed bodies some wanted are increasingly a thing of the past.

For divers, fishermen, boaters and those who recreate on our oceans and lakes, this is particularly important because of the reflected and intense direct sunlight to which they are exposed.

English: Pulau Sibu has many excellent coral r...When you buy sunscreen, look at the ingredients. The main components of most sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—ingredients that will never biodegrade and have the potential to harm corals and sea life. Some also contain mineral oil (petroleum) which has a low solubility rate in water, is slow to biodegrade and is known to be harmful or fatal to some aquatic life and birds.

You are probably asking yourself, “How can the thin layer of sunscreen I put on my body do significant damage to coral reefs and sea life?” In this case, dilution is not the solution. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers’ bodies annually with the potential to cause damage to fragile ecosystems … Read more on www.divermag.com

You just woke up, and know what? Today the world’s oceans are protected in one huge global MPA

MPAs are part of the management toolbox that can ensure sustainable use of the oceans and provide the world with fish proteins. Yet, even as benefits of MPAs related to food security, ecosystem services and livelihoods are known, we currently fail on our commitments to protect 10% of the oceans by 2020. Perhaps we need to look at the problem through a new angle: what if you woke up one day and all the oceans were protected? From now on, ocean users would have to make their case to convince governments of their need to have space allocated for their activity.

See on newswatch.nationalgeographic.com

ocean

Caribbean Coral Reefs Mostly Dead, IUCN Says

The Caribbean’s coral reefs have collapsed, mostly due to overfishing and climate change, according to a new report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “I’m sad to tell you it’s a dire picture,” Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, said at a news briefing Friday at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, South Korea.

See on newswatch.nationalgeographic.com

 

An Ocean of Troubles

Overfishing, global warming and pollution threaten to transform the ocean—and perhaps life as we know it.

IN 1998 a rise in sea temperatures caused by El Niño, a periodic eastward surge of warm Pacific water, caused a mass bleaching of the world’s coral reefs, the permanent or temporary home of perhaps a quarter of all marine species. Up to 90% of the Indian Ocean’s technicoloured reefs turned to skeletal wastes, largely devoid of life. Had this happened to rainforests—coral’s terrestrial equivalent—a sea-change in attitudes to the environment could have been expected. But because this change occurred in the sea, the calamity drew remarkably little comment.
Traditional attitudes towards the sea, as something immutable and distant to humanity, are hugely out of date. The temperature change that harmed the corals was not caused by human activity; yet it was a foretaste of what man is now doing to the sea. The effects of overfishing, agricultural pollution and anthropogenic climate change, acting in concert, are devastating marine ecosystems. Though corals are returning to many reefs, there is a fair chance that in just a few decades they will all be destroyed, as ocean temperatures rise owing to global warming. The industrial pollution that is cooking the climate could also cause another problem: carbon dioxide, absorbed by the sea from the atmosphere, turns to carbonic acid, which is a threat to coral, mussels, oysters and any creature with a shell of calcium carbonate.

The enormity of the sea’s troubles, and their implications for mankind, are mind-boggling. Yet it is equally remarkable how little this is recognised by policymakers—let alone the general public. Killer sharks are a more appealing subject than algal blooms; though they are much less deadly. There is also a dearth of good and comprehensive books on a subject that can seem too complicated and depressing for any single tome. Callum Roberts, a conservation biologist, has now provided one.

He starts with a bold claim: that anthropogenic stresses are changing the oceans faster than at almost any time in the planet’s history. That may be putting it too strongly. Yet there is no quibbling with the evidence of marine horrors that Mr Roberts presents.

The Chagos is one of the few marine locations ...

The Chagos is one of the few marine locations in the world where there are almost no ongoing, direct human impacts over almost all of its areas. The marine reserve would serve as a reference site for global scientific research to aid in our understanding of such things as climate change, tropical marine ecosystems and the impacts of commercial fisheries.

Take overfishing. The industrialisation of fishing fleets has massively increased man’s capability to scoop protein from the deep. An estimated area equivalent to half the world’s continental shelves is trawled every year, including by vast factory ships able to put to sea for weeks on end. Yet what they are scraping is the bottom of the barrel: most commercial species have been reduced by over 75% and some, like whitetip sharks and common skate, by 99%. For all the marvellous improvements in technology, British fishermen, mostly using sail-power, caught more than twice as much cod, haddock and plaice in the 1880s as they do today. By one estimate, for every hour of fishing, with electronic sonar fish finders and industrial winches, dredges and nets, they catch 6% of what their forebears caught 120 year ago.

Overfishing is eradicating the primary protein source of one in five people, many of them poor. It also weakens marine ecosystems, making them even more vulnerable to big changes coming downstream.

For example, there is the matter of chemical pollution, mostly from agricultural run-off. This has created over 400 dead-zones, where algal tides turn the sea anoxic for all or part of the year. One of the biggest, at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, covers 20,000 square km (7,700 square miles) of ocean. An annual event, mainly caused by the run-off of agricultural fertilisers from 40% of America’s lower 48 states, it makes the one-off Deepwater Horizon oil-spill look modest by comparison.

Global warming is another problem. Hitherto, the sea has been a buffer against it: because the heat capacity of water is several times that of air, the oceans have sucked up most of the additional heat, sparing the continents further warming. Yet this is now starting to change—faster than almost anyone had dared imagine.

One effect of the warming ocean, for example, is to increase the density difference between the surface and the chilly deep, which in turn decreases mixing of them. That means less oxygen is making it down to the depths, reducing the liveability of the oceans. Off America’s west coast, the upper limit of low-oxygen water is thought to have risen by 100 metres. Where strong winds bring this water nearer to the surface, there are mass die-offs of marine life. Such events will proliferate as the climate warms.

This is a poor lookout for already put-upon fish. “Fish under temperature and oxygen stress will reach smaller sizes, live less long and will have to devote a bigger fraction of their energy to survival at the cost of growth and reproduction,” writes Mr Roberts. And that is before he gets to the effects of ocean acidification, which could be very bad indeed. Without dramatic action to reverse these processes, he predicts a catastrophe comparable to the mass extinctions of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when carbon-dioxide levels, temperature and ocean acidity all rocketed. He writes: “Not for 55m years has there been oceanic disruption of comparable severity to the calamity that lies just a hundred years ahead.” That would be hard to prove; it would be better not to try.

So what is to be done? Mr Roberts provides a hundred pages of answers, occupying roughly a third of the book. They range from the obvious—curbing carbon emissions—to technical fixes, like genetic improvements to aquaculture stocks. None is impossible; and Mr Roberts, almost incredibly, describes himself as an optimist. He writes, “We can change. We can turn around our impacts on the biosphere.” We had better do so.

See on www.economist.com

The Acid Truth About our Oceans: Experts Urge Action to Limit Ocean Acidification

World Oceans map image

Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, Artic, and Southern Ocean

IUCN Media Statement, 29 November 2011 – Ocean acidification can no longer remain on the periphery of the international debates on climate change and the environment and should be addressed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other global environmental conventions, urge IUCN and the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG) at the climate change summit in Durban.

In the run up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year (Rio+20), world experts from RUG call for decision makers to urgently address the critical issue of ocean acidification.

“The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere every day are changing our oceans, steadily increasing their acidity, and dramatically affecting marine life,” says Professor Dan Laffoley Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of RUG.

“This may also have severe impacts on human life in the future. Only by reducing our CO2 emissions and enhancing the protection of oceans to strengthen their ability to recover, can we effectively address this issue. Policy makers in Durban, and in Rio in June next year, need to recognize this and take appropriate actions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, particularly CO2, which is the main driver of climate change and the main cause of ocean acidification, is one of the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the latest RUG publication calls for a broader strategy to reduce ocean acidification, alongside those tackling other threats to the marine environment such as overfishing and pollution.

According to the experts, although both climate change and ocean acidification are caused by excessive amounts of CO2 emissions, and so should be tackled together, not all approaches used to address the former will be effective in the fight against the latter.

“For example, ‘geoengineering’ solutions, such as reflecting solar radiation, which are often suggested to deal with climate change, will not address the progressive acidification of the ocean,” says Dr John Baxter of the Scottish Natural Heritage and Deputy Chair of the RUG.

“Both climate change and acidification need to be taken into account when designing solutions to these challenges.”

Each year, the ocean absorbs approximately 25% of all the CO2 we emit. Its acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and acidification will continue at an unprecedented rate in the coming decades. This can have a negative impact on marine organisms, especially the ‘calcifying’ ones such as shellfish, molluscs, coral reefs and various types of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Increasing ocean acidity requires them to use more energy to build their shells, which has potentially severe ecological consequences. If the current acidification rate continues, it could lead to extinctions of some species and impact others that feed on them.

“Through its ability to absorb large amounts of CO2, the ocean plays a crucial role in moderating the rate and severity of climate change”, says Dr Carol Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, one of the partners of the Reference User Group.

“But in many ways our ocean is also a victim of its own success, as this capacity jeopardizes its future health, its biodiversity and its ability to continue to provide us with food and sustainable economic development. Ocean acidification requires urgent and effective action now, before it’s too late. The obvious action is to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere.”

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