December 5, 2013 Oceans Report Card: November 2013
The 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference is well underway in Warsaw, Poland, and although the World Meteorological Organization is predicting that 2013 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, the Polish government took it upon themselves to invite a who’s who of greenhouse gas polluters to sponsor their event. Meanwhile, our oceans are ailing terribly.
The burning fossil fuels beginning in the 1850s has directly caused the oceans to become 26 percent more acidic.
Every day, our oceans have to digest over 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The oceans have absorbed so much carbon dioxide that they are now acidifying faster than in the previous 300 million years.
This is horrible news for all sea life, in particular coral reefs and shellfish because they are made up of calcium carbonate, which melts under acidic conditions. About 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died with the mortality rate as high as 75 percent in the Caribbean Sea and on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
As of the second week in November (2013), hundreds of endangered sea turtles have washed onshore in Latin America along the Pacific coastline. Although El Salvador’s environment minister is claiming neurotoxins from a red tide as the culprit, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise.
Dead sea turtles near the Murcielago archipelago in the northwest province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica were covered with longline hooks and nylon strings and ropes. Apparently, the week before the Costa Rican incident, fishermen were rapaciously hunting Mahi Mahi and the turtles were innocent by-catch victims. Incidentally, there’s enough longlines— with about 1.7 billion hooks and fishing nets, some with mouths wide enough to fit a dozen 747 jets inside— in our oceans that if attached to one another they would circle the equator 522 times.
If their gruesome, excruciating deaths weren’t enough to annihilate all the remaining Pacific Latin American endangered sea turtles, egg poaching is delivering the coup de grace. A Thai airport recently confiscated about 1,000 endangered sea turtle eggs from a poacher who stole them from Pacific Latin America.
Further north in the Pacific Ocean, there’s a massive die-off of starfish occurring from California to Alaska. These splendid creatures are melting away, leaving puddles of ‘white goo’ behind in what scientists are calling ‘Starfish Wasting Syndrome.’ The die-off in some tidal pools is as high as 95 percent. Very recently, a smaller Atlantic outbreak has been recorded off the coast of Maine and Rhode Island.
Scientists from University of California Santa Cruz say a die-off of this scale has never been witnessed before. The ripple effect of loosing starfish along the Pacific tidal ecosystems is huge. Starfish eat muscles, preventing muscle populations from exploding and consuming everything within tidal pools.
Dolphins are also sentinels for ocean health. Along the eastern seaboard—from New York to Florida—since June (2013), over 782 bottlenose dolphins (some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet) have died in what NOAA has dubbed an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
The dolphins are dying from a morbillivirus, which is similar to the measles virus in humans. There’s no vaccination; it’s contagious and causes skin lesions, inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and finally death.
This measles-like virus was recently found in three stranded and decayed humpback whales and two pygmy sperm whales along the eastern seaboard. Evidently, it can be transmitted amongst the cetaceans (whales and dolphins).
The 2013 UME has now eclipsed the 1987-1988 bottlenose dolphin event, which caused 740 deaths, in half that time period. Scientists know the oceans are rife with toxicity and that the immune systems of east-coast bottlenose dolphins are weak — making it far easier for both bacterial and fungal infections to set in.
We can also expect a lot more deaths in Florida as the Atlantic Ocean temperatures are cooling off farther north and the dolphins are migrating southward. Already this week, North Carolina has seen 15 dead animals wash ashore.
It is imperative that dolphins remain healthy because they prevent diseases amongst their prey from becoming epidemics throughout the oceans.
The November 2013 ocean report card score is an egregious ‘F.’ Our oceans are dying, and as Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society continues to warn us: “If the sea dies, we die.”
On December 1, 2013 Japan intends to mount its 10th consecutive campaign to slaughter whales in the Great Southern Ocean within an international whale sanctuary. The existence of those exquisite filter-feeding whales is of paramount importance because their flocculent fecal plumes fertilize the ocean.
Please support Sea Shepherd Australia as they are courageously protecting the whales from the loathsome Japanese poachers. It’s time to end ‘The War Against Nature’ – now!
Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished conservation biologist. His latest book with Chris Maser is Life, The Wonder of it All
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.