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Sunday, July 3, 2011
The dying oceans
Oceans are at dire risk, a consortium of scientists, the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), warned in early June. The interdisciplinary group of specialists gathered at the University of Oxford in April examined the synergistic effects of diverse factors on the oceans for the first time. The group found that oceans are speeding toward biological collapse faster than predicted.
IPSO's research and analysis is one of the most extensive and collaborative ever undertaken. IPSO found that entire ecosystems, like coral reefs, are dying, complete populations of certain species of fish are close to extinction and pollution is at an all-time high. These various factors are bad enough in isolation, but the comprehensive study found that they add up much more quickly than previously understood.
The scientific studies concluded that the ocean is entering a period exhibiting the same symptoms as the five previous mass extinctions in Earth's history.
Parts of the ocean have already turned into dead zones and garbage patches. Even more disturbing are the rapid increases in the three main predictors of extinction: ocean warming, acidification and hypoxia, or deoxygenation.
Each of these factors is exacerbating the others at a speed and seriousness unprecedented in human history.
For Japan, a country with a deep and abiding connection to the ocean, taking action to slow this destruction is essential and urgent. The government of Japan should take the lead in devising constructive steps to halt what seems an imminent collapse of the ocean's ability to sustain life.
First, more sustainable fishery policies must be instituted, including establishing protected areas for fish populations to re-establish themselves and safe habitats in both deep water and coastal areas.
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions, nutrient runoff from farming and pollution in the seas will immediately help to slow the damage. Further necessary steps include the monitoring and reduction of oil, gas and mineral extraction from the ocean and a closer monitoring of all uses of the marine environment.
Japan needs to encourage and support all initiatives by the United Nations to protect the ocean.
Outside the 200-mile limits of nation states, activities that harm the ocean go relatively unregulated. These open high seas areas need immediate attention.
Japan's interests, history and future are tied to ensuring that the ocean is used with better care and deeper awareness.
Unless action is taken now, in one lifetime, there may be no ocean to protect.