Comment: Why should we care about the oceans?

By Tierney Smith

Mysterious, exotic and full of life, the oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface, and provide 99% of the world’s living space.

Not only are they vital for cultivating sources of food, sustaining tourism and moving 90% of the world’s trade, they also have a valuable role of keeping a check on the global warming the planet is experiencing.

They absorb around 90% of the world’s heat and 30-50% of all Co2 emitted by humans since the industrial revolution.

Without this natural thermostat the world would have warmed far more rapidly than it is at the moment. But this process that cannot continue as it does now forever.

The oceans are suffering from mankind’s giant carbon footprint. Ecosystems are being lost; the acidity of the oceans is changing and over-fishing and pollution is putting fish stocks at risk.

For every Costa Concordia shipping disaster there are hundreds of smaller accidents that take place each day, adding toxic waste to once pristine waters.

The hidden danger

Increasing levels of ocean acidification are now seen as the evil twin of climate change.

Acidification is directly threatening marine species, ecosystems and natural habitats, particularly coral reefs and shellfish.

Meanwhile the worst forecasts predict that at the current rates of fishing, sustainable fish stocks could collapse as early as 2048.

And while a warming atmosphere is often seen as mainly affecting the polar glaciers, changes in wind, precipitation and temperatures could see the ocean currents also start to vary.

Despite these clear and present concerns, relatively little focus is placed on oceans in the international climate negotiations, and the topic is largely confined to academic circles.

As the world builds up to the Earth Summit in Rio this summer, RTCC will be exploring the role that oceans play on our planet and the strain that climate change is placing upon them.

This week we will be taking a look at both the natural and human impacts of these pressures, and asking the following key questions:

– What role will the oceans play in the future sustainable development of the planet?

– Will they be given the prominence they deserve?

– What means are there for limiting climate change’s impact on this vital planetary service?

If you want to contribute to our study email me  at [email protected] or track me down on Twitter @rtcc_tierney.

You can also leave your views on our  Facebook page

Read more on: Nature | |