On 30 September 2013, IPSO published the ‘State of the Ocean Report 2013’ in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, which comprised a set of five papers on ocean stresses, impacts and solutions. These papers were produced by leading international experts to present the key findings of IPSO’s State of the Ocean workshops.
Introduction to the Special Issue: The Global State of the Ocean; Interactions Between Stresses, Impacts and Some Potential Solutions. Synthesis papers from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean 2011 and 2012 Workshops. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 74: Issue 2, 491–552; 30 Sept 2013.
Through presentations, discussion and debate, participants in the two State of the Ocean workshops concluded that not only are we already experiencing severe declines in many species, to the point of commercial extinction in some cases, and an unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of habitat types (e.g. mangroves and seagrass meadows), but we now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing – through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss – the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high-intensity stressors has been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years (Barnosky et al., 2009).
The key points underlying this conclusion are:
Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia
Studies of the Earth’s past indicate that warming, acidification and hypoxia are three symptoms that indicate disturbances of the carbon cycle associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions on Earth.
The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating
Consequences of current rates of change already matching those predicted under the ‘worst case scenario’ include: the rate of decrease in Arctic Sea Ice and in the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheets; sea level rise; release of trapped methane from the seabed. These ‘worst case’ effects are compounding other changes more consistent with predictions, for example: changes in the distribution and abundance of marine species; changes in primary production; changes in the distribution of harmful algal blooms; increases in health hazards in the oceans; loss of large, long-lived fish species causing the simplification and destabilisation of food webs in marine ecosystems.
The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
Interactions between different impacts can be negatively synergistic (negative impact greater than sum of individual stressors) or they can be antagonistic (lowering the effects of individual impacts).
Examples of such interactions include:
- combinations of overfishing, physical disturbance, climate explosions of these invasive species – including harmful algal blooms – and dead zones;
- increased temperature and acidification increasing the susceptibility of corals to bleaching and to acting synergistically to impact the reproduction and development of other marine invertebrates;
- changes in the behaviour, fate and toxicity of heavy metals with acidification – acidification may reduce the limiting effect of iron availability on primary production in some parts of the ocean;
- increased uptake of plastics by fauna, and increased bioavailability of pollutants through adsorption onto the surface of microplastic particles;
- feedbacks of climate change impacts on the oceans (temperature rise, sea level rise, loss of ice cover, acidification, increased storm intensity, methane release) on their rate of carbon dioxide uptake and global warming.
Timelines for action are shrinking
The longer the delay in reducing emissions the higher the annual reduction rate will have to be and the greater the financial cost. Delays will mean increased environmental damage with greater socioeconomic impacts and costs of mitigation and adaptation measures.
Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction
Examples include the overfishing of reef grazers, nutrient runoff, and other forms of pollution (e.g. presence of pathogens or endocrine disrupting chemicals) reducing the ability of reefs to recover from temperature-induced mass coral bleaching. These multiple stressors promote the phase-shift of reef ecosystems from being coral-dominated to algal-dominated. The loss of genetic diversity from overfishing reduces the ocean’s ability to adapt to stressors.
Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors
Stressors include chemical pollutants, agriculture run-off, sediment loads and over-extraction of many components of food webs, which singly and together severely impair the functioning of ecosystems. Consequences include: the potential increase of harmful algal blooms in recent decades; the spread of oxygen-depleted or dead zones; the disturbance of the structure and functioning of marine food webs, to the benefit of planktonic organisms of low nutritional value such as jellyfish or other gelatinous-like organisms; dramatic changes in the microbial communities, with negative impacts at the ecosystem scale; the impact of emerging chemical contaminants in ecosystems.
This impairment damages or eliminates the ability of ecosystems to support humans.
The extinction threat to marine species is increasing rapidly
The main causes of extinctions of marine species to date are over-exploitation and habitat loss. However, climate change is an increasing threat to species, as evidenced by the recent IUCN Red List Assessment of reef-forming corals. Some other species ranges have already extended or shifted polewards and into deeper cooler waters, though this may not be possible for some species to achieve, potentially leading to reduced habitats and more extinctions. Shifts in currents and temperatures will affect the food supply of animals, including at critical early stages, potentially testing their ability to survive.
The technical means to achieve the solutions to many of the problems that the two State of the Ocean workshops identified already exist. However, current societal values prevent humankind from addressing them effectively. Overcoming these barriers is core to the fundamental changes needed to achieve a sustainable and equitable future for the generations to come through preserving the natural ecosystems of the Earth that we benefit from and enjoy today.
Participants recommended actions in four areas.
Immediate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions
These reductions should be coupled with significantly increased measures for mitigation of atmospheric CO2 and to better manage coastal and marine carbon sinks to avoid additional emissions of greenhouse gases. It is a matter of urgency that the ocean is considered a priority in the deliberations of the IPCC and UNFCCC.
Urgent actions to restore the structure and function of marine ecosystems
These should include the coordinated and concerted action in national waters and on the High Seas (the high seas water column and seabed Area beyond national jurisdiction) by states and regional bodies to:
- reduce fishing effort to levels commensurate with long-term sustainability of fisheries and the marine environment;
- close fisheries that are not demonstrably managed following sustainable principles, or which depend wholly on government subsidies;
- establish a globally comprehensive and representative system of marine protected areas to conserve biodiversity, to build resilience, and to ensure ecologically sustainable fisheries with minimal ecological footprint;
- prevent, reduce and strictly control inputs of substances that are harmful or toxic to marine organisms into the marine environment;
- prevent, reduce and strictly control nutrient inputs into the marine environment through better land and river catchment management and sewage treatment;
- avoid, reduce or, at minimum, universally and stringently regulate oil, gas, aggregate and mineral extraction;
- assess, monitor and control other uses of the marine environment such as renewable energy schemes or cable / pipeline installation through comprehensive spatial planning and impact assessments procedures.
Proper and universal implementation of the precautionary principle
This can be done by reversing the burden of proof so activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.
Urgent introduction by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly of effective governance of the High Seas beyond the jurisdiction of any individual nations
This should include a global body empowered to ensure compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other relevant legal duties and norms and to establish new rules, regulations and procedures where necessary to implement these requirements in an ecosystem-based and precautionary manner.
Five papers: Summaries
The State of the Ocean Report 2013 comprises five synthesis papers. These papers aim to contribute to actions to address the problems we now face by analysing the effects of and links between the ocean’s major stressors, as well as identifying the best available options for addressing them effectively.
The ocean is shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. The twin effects of this – acidification and ocean warming – are combining with increased levels of deoxygenation caused by nutrient run-off from agriculture near the coast and climate change offshore to produce what has become known as the ocean’s ‘deadly trio’ of threats, whose impacts are potentially far greater because of the interaction of one with another. The scale and rate of this change is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history and is exposing organisms to intolerable and unpredictable evolutionary pressure.
Climate change and the ocean – What does the future hold?
- Jelle Bijma, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany
- Hans-O. Pörtner, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany
- Chris Yesson, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, UK
- Alex D. Rogers, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford UK
Number of citations: 13
We have been taking the ocean for granted. It has been shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 from the atmosphere, and this has created a ‘deadly trio’ of impacts – acidification, warming and deoxygenation – which are combining to dramatic effect on the flora and fauna of the ocean and exacerbating the effects of other factors such as pollution, eutrophication and overfishing. According to a flood of recent literature, most, if not all, of the Earth’s five past mass-extinction events have involved at least one of these three symptoms of global carbon perturbations; all are present in the ocean today.
More worrying still, the scale and rate of the present day carbon perturbation and resulting ocean acidification is unprecedented in Earth’s known history. Today’s rate of carbon release, at approximately 30 Gt of CO2 per year, is at least 10 times faster than that which preceded the last major species extinction (the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction, or PETM, ca. 55 million years ago), while geological records indicate that the current acidification is unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction event may have already begun.
Developed, industrialised human society is living above the carrying capacity of the Earth, and the
implications for the ocean, and thus for all humans, are huge. It is now certain that the uptake of CO2 into the ocean is outstripping its capacity to absorb it, resulting in a reduction in ocean pH (i.e. an
increase in acidity) coupled with a lowering of its CO2 buffering capacity. Acidification is causing a substantial decline in carbonate ion concentrations and resulting in 800km2 of the seafloor becoming exposed to waters that are unsaturated with respect to aragonite every year. The rate of acidification is 50% faster at high latitudes compared to sub-tropical waters because of the effects of temperature on ocean chemistry. Biological impacts are already being observed as acidification is a direct threat to all marine organisms that build their skeletons out of calcium carbonate, including reef-forming corals, crustaceans, molluscs and other planktonic species that are at the lower levels of pelagic food webs. If current levels of CO2 release continue we can expect extremely serious consequences for ocean life; at CO2 concentrations of 450–500 ppm (projected in 2030–2050), erosion will exceed calcification in the coral reef building process, resulting in the extinction of some species and a decline in biodiversity overall.
The second prong in the ‘deadly trio’ is ocean warming. The average temperature of the upper layers of the ocean has increased by 0.6oC over the last 100 years, with direct and well-documented physical and biogeochemical consequences. The impacts that continued warming is projected to have in the decades to 2050 include: reduced seasonal ice zones, including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice; increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion; increased venting of the GHG methane from the Arctic seabed; increased incidence of anoxic and hypoxic (low oxygen) events.
The biological implications encompass: sea temperature-driven range shifts and species invasions, in particular a projected movement poleward of 30–130 km, and 3.5m deeper, by marine fish each decade; loss of 60% of present biodiversity of exploited marine fish and invertebrates, including numerous local extinctions; increased disease prevalence as a result of pathogen range expansions; increased extinctions, with ice-dependent polar species such as seals and penguins at greatest risk; mass coral bleaching leading to increased coral reef mortality and a predicted phase shift from coral domination to algal domination in the Great Barrier Reef and Caribbean reefs. The synergistic effect of acidification and warming are considered likely to lead to rapid and terminal decline of tropical coral reefs by 2050. All these changes will have massive economic and food security consequences, not least for the fishing industry and all those who depend on it. It is predicted that the redistribution of commercial fish species through range shifts will lead to a 40% decrease in catch potential in the tropics by 2050, and 30–70% increase in the high-latitude zones – where richer societies and more industrialised fisheries are located.
To complete the triumvirate, there is deoxygenation: the accumulating evidence that the oxygen inventory of the ocean is progressively declining. Predictions for ocean oxygen content suggest a decline of between 1% and 7% by 2100. This is occurring in two ways: the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years and the dramatic increase in coastal hypoxia associated with eutrophication. The former is caused by global warming, the second by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage. Impacts of the broad deoxygenation on marine species and ecosystems are varied, but include habitat compression for large ocean predators such as marlin, which have a high oxygen demand; this is likely to increase the vulnerability of these large fish, which also include tuna species, to fishing pressure. Another symptom of climate change has been the incursion of anoxic (no oxygen) waters into the inner shelf adjacent to the upwelling zone along the west coast of North America, with such events occurring in 2006, 2007 and 2008 having negative effects and causing mortalities among marine fauna.
Oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, zones have spread since the introduction of industrial fertilizers in the 1940s, and since the 1960s the number of ‘dead zones’ has doubled every 10 years, concentrated in areas near human population centres and large water sheds. Inland seas and estuaries – including the Black Sea, the Kattegat, and Chesapeake Bay – are particularly badly affected, and the number of hypoxic zones is thought to be underestimated as their occurrence is not reported in many geographic zones. Over long periods of time, hypoxia or anoxia will eliminate most benthic fauna within areas vulnerable to the formation of dead zones, causing ecosystems to become dominated by microorganisms (some of them pathogenic) and harmful algal blooms. Climate-induced and eutrophication-induced hypoxia may interact as elevated temperatures enhance stratification and may increase the likelihood of eutrophication-induced coastal hypoxia.
It is the simultaneous occurrence of the ‘deadly trio’ that is seriously effecting how productive and efficient the ocean is, as temperatures, chemistry, surface stratification, nutrient and oxygen supply are all implicated, meaning that many organisms will find themselves in unsuitable environments. These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens. To make matters even worse, this is all happening to marine ecosystems already undermined by other human pressures such as overfishing, eutrophication and pollution. The adaption of species to these altered conditions is in some cases possible, as is migration, though as warming demands a poleward migration while acidification encourages the movement to warmer more equatorial waters, the ‘green pastures’ will become increasingly scarce and competition for them fierce. Mass extinctions happen in the geological equivalent of overnight; we may already have entered into an extinction period and not yet realised it. What is certain is that current carbon perturbations will have huge implications for humans, and may well be the most important challenge faced since the first hominids evolved. The urgent need to reduce the pressure of all ocean stressors, especially CO2 emissions, is well signposted.
The global picture of ongoing depletions of fish stocks, the degradation of food webs, threats to seafood security and poor quality of most fishing management is alarming and demonstrates that recent more optimistic outlooks are misplaced. Reversing these global trends towards “despair” demands urgent, focused, innovative action to promote effective community- and ecosystem-based management.
Fisheries – Hope or despair?
- Tony J. Pitcher, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada
- William W.L. Cheung, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada
Number of citations: 16
We have drawn heavily from the ocean to feed millions of people over the millennia, but have the last decades of increasingly intense and industrialised fishing done irreversible harm to its biodiversity?
For the past 10 years, fisheries worldwide have been generally reported as being in an extremely poor state with no improvement in sight and forecasts warning of the collapse of ocean fisheries as we know them. However, more recently, some studies have suggested that fisheries depletions have turned the corner, that things may have always been better than we thought and are now improving. Sadly, the authors of this review for IPSO conclude that this optimistic outlook is misplaced, largely because the analysis it is founded on was primarily based on evidence from better-managed, developing world fisheries. Deeper analysis of the status of the majority of world fisheries instead confirms the previous dismal outlook: serious depletions are the norm, management quality is poor, and catch per unit effort continues to decline.
The global picture for further fisheries species extinctions, the degradation of food webs and seafood security is alarming and the depressingly poor quality of fishing management is one key issue that challenges any claim that things have improved. A recent global assessment of compliance with Article 7 (fishery management) of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, awarded 60% of countries a “fail” grade and saw no country identified as being overall “good”. Some of the worst compliance results were related to catch issues that should be straightforward to address, such as tackling bycatch, discard and the scourge of “ghost fishing” by lost fishing gear. All were awarded “fail” scores worldwide and remain hugely destructive problems. The Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean scored worst of all.
There has been widespread failure among the principal fishing countries to adopt the key features of ecosystem-based fishery management, and “silver bullet” approaches that rely heavily on one type of management solution (e.g. property rights, or marine protected areas) have been shown to be of only limited use. While there are some promising signs that the management of some fisheries in the developed world is improving, over 80% of the world’s fish are caught elsewhere, in many cases in fisheries where stocks are not assessed. The analysis suggesting that fisheries status is improving was based on just 16% of world fisheries, mostly in Europe and North America. More recent, global analysis suggests that catch per effort is declining and in 2012 FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are overexploited of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels. Meanwhile illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing remains a huge problem; the total extent of IUU fishing is uncertain but estimated to be at least 35% of the global catch. This phenomenon is related to another trend which is the dark side of improved fisheries management and control in the developed world; there has been an often uncontrolled redistribution of effort into poorer regions, causing serious overexploitation and the unethical sequestering of local benefits – including valuable sources of food – and biodiversity.
Some fisheries scientists warn that we are living through a major catastrophe in our exploitation of fish stocks and regard most of the management that is taking place to be working to support a globalised commercial enterprise marketing commoditised fish, at the expense of biodiversity and conservation, as well as long term food security. In most parts of the world there is very little science-based action to conserve the non-fished components of the ecosystem, whether top predators or low trophic level groups. Even where many fisheries are assessed, as in the developed world, there is almost no explicit inclusion of these non-fishing factors. Compounding this already dire situation, climate change is expected to continue to cause range shifts in important commercial species, reduce the actual body size of fishes, and make management more challenging and unpredictable. While there are still gaps in our understanding of climate change effects on fisheries, there is already sufficient scientific information highlighting the urgent need to implement mitigation and adaptation policies to minimise the impacts.
A fundamental solution to many of these problems is to ensure effective implementation of community- and ecosystem-based management, favouring small-scale fisheries. Examples of broad-scale measures include introducing true co-management with resource adjacent communities, eliminating harmful subsidies that drive overcapacity, protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, banning the most destructive fishing gear, and combating IUU fishing. The challenge is to effectively and ethically implement these solutions and this requires effort and cooperation at all levels from small communities to international bodies. There are examples that indicate that declining trends can be reversed but action needs to be urgent, focused, innovative and global if we are to avoid tipping us further, and irreversibly, onto the despair side of the hope/despair balance.
Protecting marine ecosystems and seafood resources from the adverse effects of complex cocktails of ‘legacy’ (already regulated) contaminants, emerging (unregulated) chemicals and natural chemicals (e.g. algal biotoxins) remains a critical, unresolved global problem. The economic and infrastructural challenges posed by such a wide variety of chemicals means that the most cost-effective approach is to implement a targeted, effects-based strategy that prioritises key groups of chemicals of most concern.
Evaluating legacy contaminants and emerging chemicals in marine environments
- Thomas H. Hutchinson, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Weymouth Laboratory, Dorset, UK
- Brett P. Lyons, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Weymouth Laboratory, Dorset, UK
- John E. Thain, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Weymouth Laboratory, Dorset, UK
- Robin J. Law, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Suffolk, UK
Number of citations: 10
Complex mixtures – or ‘cocktails’ – of ‘legacy’ contaminants (that are now subject to control, such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants), emerging chemicals (defined as chemicals that have been detected in the environment, but are currently unregulated, the fate and biological impacts of which are poorly understood) and natural chemicals (e.g. algal biotoxins) in marine ecosystems pose a threat to human health via the food chain, and represent important scientific, economic and health challenges. Protecting marine ecosystems and seafood resources from the adverse effects of chemical contaminants therefore remains an important issue.
Analytical chemistry plays a key role in evaluating to what extent regulatory steps (such as regional conventions controlling certain persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, or PBT, chemicals) have been effective in leading to reduced emissions of these legacy contaminants into marine environments. Evidence suggests that a number of these regional conventions succeeded in reducing inputs and levels of certain PBT legacy contaminants in many areas, although problematic exposure scenarios do still exist, for example lingering high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in UK estuaries. In parallel, the application of biomarkers and bioassays integrated with analytical chemistry has strengthened the evidence base to support an ecosystem approach to manage marine pollution problems. In recent years, however, the increased sensitivity of analytical chemistry, toxicity alerts and wider environmental awareness has led to a focus on emerging chemical contaminants (including brominated flame retardants, microplastics, nanomaterials and recreational drugs). High profile recent examples – such as the Prestige and Deepwater Horizon oil disasters in Spain and the US, and the ongoing pollution of the Pearl River estuary in China – have also highlighted the huge damage and cost that marine pollution can incur and helped focus public and political attention on the issue.
The challenges posed by chemical contamination and pollution can be met by initiating a programme of exposure assessments for priority chemicals, to establish a better understanding of the biological effects of these chemicals and to better understand the impacts of complex mixtures of substances on physiology. The economic and infrastructural challenges posed by such a wide variety of chemicals means that a targeted, effects-based strategy is needed.
In order to meet these challenges, and pursue cost-effective scientific approaches that can provide the evidence necessary to support policy needs, the authors of this paper support the widely held view that, rather than increasing the analytical chemistry monitoring of large numbers of emerging contaminants, it will be important to target key groups of chemicals of concern using effects-directed analysis. It is also important to evaluate to what extent existing biomarkers and bioassays can address various classes of emerging chemicals using the adverse outcome pathway (AOP) approach now being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with respect to human toxicology and ecotoxicology. These methods promise to be valuable tools for determining the most effective way to address complex chemical contamination mixtures that can threaten marine ecosystems and seafood resources.
Climate change impacts on coral reefs: Synergies with local effects, possibilities for acclimation, and management implications
Coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is imperative and urgent that emissions targets below 450 ppm CO2e be agreed and implemented, combined with coordinated programmes at local and regional levels to reduce other stress factors and boost resilience; otherwise it is predicted that most reefs will be lost as effective, productive systems within a few decades.
Climate change impacts on coral reefs: Synergies with local effects, possibilities for acclimation, and management implications
- Mebrahtu Ateweberhan, Department of Life Science, University of Warwick, UK
- David A. Feary, School of the Environment, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
- Shashank Keshavmurthy, Biodiversity Research Centre, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
- Allen Chen, Biodiversity Research Centre, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
- Michael H. Schleyer, Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban, South Africa
- Charles R.C. Sheppard, Department of Life Science, University of Warwick, UK
Number of citations: 13
Corals reefs are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change impacts, in particular to acidification and warming and the synergy between them. These factors also interact with local pressures from pollution, overfishing and shoreline alterations to further reduce the resilience of coral reefs and amplify the effects of climate change. This is a particular concern as a substantial number of the world’s poorest people depend on coral reefs, including for reef-supplied food. Prior to the major warming-induced coral bleaching event of 1998, local factors such as nutrient run-off and destructive fishing practices were seen as the greatest threat to corals; since 1998 – when some of the most remote reefs, previously considered at low risk, were worst affected – the attention has shifted to climate change, but it is vital that the interaction between all factors is considered when making management decisions.
Coral bleaching follows anomalously high seawater temperatures, and such episodes have been increasing steadily over the past three decades in terms of both frequency and intensity. Ocean acidification is another direct threat to corals as increased bi-carbonate coupled with reduced calcium carbonate (a result of acidification) drastically reduces the growth of coral skeletons and eventually will dissolve existing calcified matter. Acidification has also been identified by some researchers as a trigger for coral bleaching and can slow down post-bleaching recovery. The ocean is already on average 0.1 pH units more acidic than in the pre-industrial period and this reduction in pH is expected to reach 0.4 pH units more acidic by 2100. At 450ppm CO2e (associated with a 2oC temperature rise) coral reefs will cease to grow, at 560ppm CO2e (approx. 3oC rise) they may start to dissolve. The response of corals to acidification may also be synergistic with other factors, notably temperature, to multiply and amplify effects. Interaction between coral bleaching, acidification and diseases are expected to negatively influence coral survival, growth, reproduction, larval development and species development.
The authors of this paper consider it unlikely that coral reefs can adapt or acclimatise to these fast changing environmental conditions, i.e. decadal rather than millennial rates of climate change. Responses to increasing episodic mass bleaching and mortality events that have already occurred indicate that adaptation is not happening fast enough to match the rate and frequency of warming events and hope that species will acclimatise appears to be misplaced. However, some species are more affected than others leading to fundamental changes in the composition of reef communities. In many coral reefs suffering from degradation, the structure of seabed ecosystems is already characterised by low coral cover and diversity and the dominance of seaweed, algae and soft-bodied invertebrates. It is vital that local efforts to reduce the impact of direct stressors such as pollution and fishing and aid reef recovery, are stepped-up. It is tempting to consider such local initiatives futile in the face of rising CO2 levels, but evidence shows that reefs that have fewer local pressures (such as in the Chagos atolls) recover better from high temperatures than those where there are many additional pressures (such as in the Seychelles). This presents a strong incentive for local action to boost the resilience of coral reefs to global stressors.
At the global management level, the key message is that the current targets for carbon emission reductions are unrealistic in terms of ensuring coral reef survival, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 and levels of CO2 dissolved in the ocean – a factor that appears to be beyond the grasp of most policy-makers. Put simply, the target to limit temperature rise to 2oC, or remain below 450 CO2e, is not sufficient for coral reefs to survive. Lower targets should be urgently pursued. Even more worrying, some socio-economic evaluations conclude that even the 2oC target is too hard to bear and are encouraging settling for a 650ppm CO2e stabilisation level. This “easy” economic compromise would be completely fatal for coral reefs. It is imperative that targets below 450 ppm CO2e be agreed and implemented, combined with coordinated programmes at local and regional levels to reduce local stress factors and boost resilience. Without such dedicated action it is predicted that most reefs will be lost as effective, productive systems within a few decades.
Ocean in peril: Reforming the management of global ocean living resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction
The current system of high seas governance is fraught with gaps, directly leading to the mismanagement and misappropriation of living resources, and placing our ocean in peril. It is time for a new paradigm that can only come about through the fundamental reform of existing organisations and systems, overseen by a new global infrastructure to coordinate and enforce the necessary action. Crucially, the authors call for the negotiation of a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Ocean in peril: Reforming the management of global ocean living resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction
- Kristina M. Gjerde, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Program, Massachusetts, USA
- Duncan Currie, Globelaw, Christchurch, New Zealand
- Kateryna Wowk, NOAA, Washington, USA
- Karen Sack, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, USA
Number of citations: 6
The existing legal and institutional framework for governing and managing the resources of the high seas (the vast areas of the ocean that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, EEZ, or under the national jurisdiction of any state) is weak and poorly implemented. As a result, high seas living resources are not being used sustainably and the health of the marine environment is being compromised. The high seas is often referred to as the ‘the global ocean commons’, a common heritage of humankind but its biodiversity is exploited predominantly by vessels from developed States and it is also subject to global problems related to climate change, pollution and large-scale human activities such as shipping.
The previous paper has already shown that global fisheries as a whole are in crisis; many fish stocks caught largely in the high seas, including one third of highly-migratory tuna and more than half of oceanic sharks, are overexploited or depleted. It has also been estimated that up to half of all illegal fish catches, in terms of value, take place in the high seas. Chronic mismanagement by regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), combined with excessive government subsidies spurring overcapacity in open-access fisheries, contribute to overfishing and IUU fishing in the high seas. The consequences are brought into stark relief by the recent collapse of the once highly productive jack mackerel fishery in the South Pacific in less than 20 years. While governments negotiated the creation of an RFMO in the region, and deliberated over interim measures, a ‘race to fish’ before the agreement entered into force drove stocks from 30 million tons to just 3 million.
RFMOs are the institutions legally charged with managing high seas fisheries under UNCLOS, yet a recent assessment identified that 67% of stocks (for which the status is known) under the jurisdiction of the 18 existing RFMOs are depleted or being overfished. A major problem is that the rules and decisions adopted by each RFMO apply only to its own member States while vessels owned by other States are able to fish in the region. Nearly all RFMOs are comprised primarily of States with a direct economic interest in the fishery, with delegates representing commercial fishing interests hugely outnumbering those geared towards ecological concerns. There is also a wide discrepancy between the effectiveness of different RFMOs – indicating what can be achieved where political will and pressure exist. For example, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) is widely praised, while the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has been labeled an international disgrace. At best, the pace of reform has been slow and uneven.
IUU fishing is a global phenomenon and an area where the advantages of an integrated global approach are already acknowledged. Persistent IUU fishing today is to a large extent due to the traditional reliance on flag States to enforce regionally agreed measures – based on the legal fiction that a ship is a floating piece of a nation’s territory. This allows certain irresponsible States to evade their commitments, and encourages the practice of reflagging ships to evade enforcement action. The 2009 FAO Port State Measures Agreement sets the stage for a consistent international standard to replace ad hoc regional approaches but much more needs to be done to achieve compliance and enforcement. At the moment, illegal fishers remain too confident in their ability to escape detection and punishment. Marine living resources crime, in particular illegal fishing, needs to be integrated into wider efforts to suppress the other transnational crimes to which it can be connected, such as piracy, drug trafficking, terrorism and the illegal trafficking of people and weapons. The existing regional and international policing community, particularly INTERPOL and EUROPOL, should become more engaged in this issue and help implement measures to shift IUU fishing from a low risk, high reward activity to one that has high risks with few chances for rewards.
The technology needed to implement effective monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities in the oceans already exists, which means that the ongoing inability to manage fisheries on the high seas comes down to gaps in governance and the ineffectiveness of the organisations charged with managing such fisheries, i.e. RFMOs. The authors of this paper warn that if no change is made, the deterioration of the high seas will accelerate as more areas are targeted for fishing or other extractive activities. This may weaken ecosystem function, resilience and adaptive capacity and thereby exacerbate the effects of other marine stressors, such as warming and acidification. They therefore outline three possible avenues for: 1) a ‘soft’ change through a series of UN General Assembly Resolutions, which is deemed insufficient as such resolutions often produce few practical results, can take years to negotiate and would still leave RFMOs as the primary institutions; 2) an enhanced regional approach focused on strengthening RFMO performance and capacity for ecosystem based management of living resources, which has the disadvantage of continuing with the regional ‘silo’ approach and not introducing any globally agreed goals; and 3) an ambitious fundamental reform which would combine the two previous proposals with a global infrastructure to coordinate, ensure consistency and supervise, sanction and enforce the necessary changes.
The key elements of this enhanced global infrastructure for high seas governance could include the establishment of a global high seas enforcement agency to provide integrated and coordinated monitoring and enforcement for the full range of ocean security threats. Most importantly, the fundamental linchpin proposed is a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of UNCLOS.
The current system of high seas governance that tolerates the mismanagement and misappropriation of high seas living resources is placing our ocean in peril. It is time for a new paradigm that promotes ocean health, resilience and integrity, to secure the well-being, diversity and productivity of the ocean for the benefit of present and future generations.
All five of these papers, and the report arising from the two seminal IPSO meetings, outline some of the most important steps that need to be taken to achieve a more holistic, ecosystem-based approach to marine management. Ultimately, however, this must be undertaken within a wider re-evaluation of the core values of human society and its relationship to the natural world on which we all rely. The future of humanity and the future of the ocean are intertwined.