Rousing the Rabble – A neglected part of the biosphere

Column from regular Gazette columnist Roy Ronaghan from Oct. 9 paper.

We’ve been so distracted by the talk about “global warming” and “climate change” that our understanding of the more significant issue has been clouded.

All species of plants and animals living on land and in the oceans are suffering from a carbon overload. Plants need carbon dioxide to thrive, but they now have to cope with far too much of it.

Oceans cover over 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface to great depths and provide the environment for an unknown number of species of fish and other aquatic life that thrives in a saline solution.

If they were drained, the landmass they cover would increase Earth’s surface by 90 per cent.

Carl Safina, a marine biologist and president of Blue Ocean Institute says, “It’s not just about climate. It is and always has been, about the carbon. From atmosphere to ocean to cell, the carbon burden is the problem.”

Living as we do in an interior community, the health of Earth’s oceans is not something that is high on our list of concerns. We likely don’t even give them concern when we decide to feast on prawn, crab, lobster, wild salmon or tuna.

The oceans are out of sight and out of mind and a neglected part of the biosphere that is taken for granted though oceans have a huge role in the regulation of the global climate, maintaining a liveable atmosphere on Earth, and breaking down air and water borne wastes.

To the uninformed the world’s oceans are thought of as being healthy and teaming with life. They are seen as a vast larder for protein rich food, places for recreation, and places to cruise on huge luxurious ships.

Earth’s oceans are in trouble. They are sick, and in many locations they are dead or on the verge of dying. They are burdened with vast quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) from land-based industrial operations because they have become a place to dump unknown quantities of chemical and solid wastes.

They are also being over fished by huge industrial fishing operations that are decimating fish stocks. The prognosis for the health of the oceans is not good.

There is plenty of documentation to show that global climate change brought on by industrial operations and other human activity around the globe is having an impact on the oceans beyond anything ever imagined.

An impact seldom mentioned is an increased acidity from the absorption of CO2. Another is the quantity of plastics found worldwide.

Alana Mitchell, author of Sea Sick, a book published in 2009, visited some of the most threatened ocean environments to gather information on the results of a century or two of maltreatment by human populations.

She describes a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is a lifeless blob where no marine life can survive because there is little or no oxygen.

The cause of the blob is chemicals from the Mississippi River system being deposited in the gulf’s waters. Scientists have identified over 400 ocean dead zones.

A few of Mitchell’s other discoveries were a dying Great Barrier Reef; a severe decline in the level of ocean plankton, the plant that is a vital life source for a multitude of ocean fish and other animals; and a 90 per cent reduction in populations of the predatory fishes like cod, tuna and swordfish.

If we are to maintain healthy oceans we must stop using them as waste depositories, end over-fishing, and set aside marine reserves. Where destructive practices have been eliminated, ocean life has recovered.

There are no options available other than to change what we are doing everywhere in the world.

Only then will we avoid a catastrophe like the one experienced on Canada’s east coast when the cod stocks disappeared.

Roy Ronaghan is a Boundary-based columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette.

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