A recipe for saving the world's oceans from an extinction crisis

Aug 13, 2008
Simply enforcing fisheries regulations would go a long way to preventing species extinctions. Credit: Marcos Guerra, STRI

Jeremy Jackson, senior scientist emeritus of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, asserts in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that the following steps, if taken immediately, could reverse the demise of the oceans: Establish marine reserves, enforce fishing regulations, implement aquaculture, remove subsidies on fertilizer use, muster human ingenuity to limit fossil fuel consumption, buy time by establishing local conservation measures.

In 2001, Jackson and 18 co-authors published a landmark paper in the journal Science, "Historical Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems," in which they made the case that environments that we perceive as relatively pristine have, in fact, been radically altered by centuries of human exploitation.

Jackson has been on the lecture circuit since then. "Our amnesia about what is natural is the greatest threat to the environment," said Jackson, in the youTube version of his talk "The State of the Ocean," delivered at Middlebury College, in Vermont, in 2007.

Developing a media-savvy approach, Jackson worked closely with Nancy Baron, Ocean Science Outreach director of SeaWeb/Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea to publicize his work and the work of other ocean scientists.

Later, he collaborated with marine biologist-turned-filmmaker, Randy Olson of "Flock of Dodos" and "Sizzle" fame, to create Shifting Baselines videos for the Web—graphic demonstrations of the way our perception of what a "natural" environment is changes over time.

In this article, "Ecological Extinciton and Evolution in the Brave New Ocean," Jackson reviews a series of studies that bolster initial observations that exploitation and pollution of estuaries and coastal seas, coral reef ecosystems, continental margins and the open ocean continue unabated.

He predicts that overfishing will lead to extinction of edible species and have an indirect effect on other levels of the food chain. Larger dead zones and toxic algal blooms may merge along the coastal zones of all of the continents. Disease outbreaks will increase. Vertical mixing of ocean waters may be inhibited resulting in disrupted nutrient cycles.

"Some may say that it is irresponsible to make such predictions pending further detailed study to be sure of every point. However, we will never be certain about every detail, and it would be irresponsible to remain silent in the face of what we already know."

Despite Jackson's bleak prognosis for a "brave new ocean," he clearly identifies "lack of political will and the greed of special interests" as standing in the way of establishing sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, "Simply enforcing the standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service would result in major improvements in U.S. waters within a decade."

"We have to begin somewhere," says Jackson—who will continue to stir the pot.

Ref: Jeremy B.C. Jackson. 2008. Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean. PNAS, 12 August early online edition.

Source: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Explore further: International donors pledge $3bn to save shrinking Aral Sea

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UN meeting aims to set species-saving goals

Oct 17, 2010

(AP) -- An international conference aimed at preserving the planet's diversity of plants and animals in the face of pollution and habitat loss begins Monday in Japan, facing some of the same divisions between ...

Recommended for you

Australia set to pay polluters to cut emissions

35 minutes ago

Australia is set to approve measures giving polluters financial incentives to reduce emissions blamed for climate change, in a move critics described as ineffective environmental policy.

TransCanada seeks approvals for pipeline to Atlantic

11 hours ago

TransCanada on Thursday filed for regulatory approval of a proposed Can$12 billion (US$10.7 billion) pipeline to carry western Canadian oil to Atlantic coast refineries and terminals, for shipping overseas.

Does it help conservation to put a price on nature?

14 hours ago

Putting a price on the services which a particular ecosystem provides may encourage the adoption of greener policies, but it may come at the price of biodiversity conservation. Writing today in the journal ...

Reef-builders with a sense of harmony

16 hours ago

Cold-water corals of the species Lophelia pertusa are able to fuse skeletons of genetically distinct individuals. On dives with JAGO, a research submersible stationed at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, scientists ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

QubitTamer
not rated yet Jul 29, 2009
Wow and this could also fix the global economic crisis and the health care crisis and all of the other crises that gloom and doom lefties use to cajole and trick people into giving up their freedoms!! Go sell this in Asia where most of the fish products go for consumption... Long John Silver fish fillets stuffed into American freezers are NOT the doom of the oceans...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.