According to a report this week by the conservation group Oceana, the depletion of sea life is becoming an issue that cannot be ignored and preventive measures must be taken. Fishermen off the nation’s coasts inadvertently bring in tons of unwanted animals along with what is intended, and the study notes that the problem of what is called “bycatch” in some instances includes up to 64 percent of what is in their nets, so whether or not this is a crisis should be examined.
Federal statistics show that South Carolina alone brings in close to $25 million of seafood a year, putting a heavy toll on the ocean, and though most of the marine creatures thrown back are not in danger of going extinct, the study is more concerned about the animals that are. With sea turtles being a protected species, for the past two decades shrimpers have been federally forced to use “excluder devices” in their nets that allow sharks, rays, turtles, and dolphins to escape.
A former biologist from the Department of Natural Resources said that shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico have not readily adopted these devices, and that the reason for a favorable change in statistics is because there are simply fewer shrimpers. Overall, estimates for the US say that the average bycatch that is discarded is from 17 percent to 22 percent, but in the year 2012 there may have been 50,000 sea turtles killed, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Even removing small species is dangerous to the food chain, and a sharp decline in shark populations threatens the homeostasis of the entire ecosystem. This calls into question the Asian practice of eating shark-fin soup, since they often pull the animals in for nothing other than their fins before pushing the carcasses back into the sea. Every year, the number of those killed range in the tens of millions, and because alpha predators have slower reproduction rates as a result of not generally being threatened to the extent of necessitating rapid breeding, as a species they are slow to recover from overfishing and damage to their habitat is overwhelming.
Renowned biologist Sylvia Earle has also warned about the dangers of ocean noise created by Naval sonar use by the military, the industrial shipping traffic, and seismic oil exploration. Sonar at even low-frequencies disrupts the internal mechanisms in whales for what is their central form of communication and navigation, and high-frequencies is reportedly threatening their health with potential auditory damage and hemorrhagic trauma from avoiding the pain by rushing to the surface too quickly to equalize the pressure. In other cases, sonar is actually driving whales to beach themselves to escape what Sylvia Earle has referred to as “a death of a thousand cuts.”
In the past decade, other issues include negative projections for the acidity in the ocean as a result of the absorption of carbon dioxide from atmospheric damage from fossil fuels. Jelle Bijma, a biogeochemist at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven and the chair of the Euroclimate Programme Scientific Committee, believes that this level of acidification has not been reached in the past 35 million years. Coral bleaching has been attributed to climate change, and in hundreds of areas there are “dead zones” where the lack of oxygen in the water is so extreme that it cannot support life.
Mercury has been a topic not only because it has been found in waterways in every state, but also because it lands directly on American dinner tables. It is believed to be mostly a result of coal-fired power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and it reaches supermarkets most often in tuna.
To speak about the ocean, the elephant in the room has been referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is supposedly the size of Texas. It was rumored to be visible from space, but in reality it is a massive puddle of chemical sludge and polymers from plastic degrading in a water column in the North Pacific Gyre in an oversized whirlpool effect.
Geoengineering has not been as reliable as scientists hoped, and it must be noted that the terraforming being imagined for other planets should work on earth first, but the law of unintended consequences is a dangerous game to play with the cycles of nature. The truth is that the world has to know what is wrong to be able to fix it, and through decades of conservation efforts, the advances being made to regulate certain problems are not only working but need to be drastically expanded. Humanity has the intelligence to find a way to walk on the moon, so there should be great hope if that same strength of will is directed towards the ocean.
By Elijah Stephens