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"Shocking" deterioration of oceans is leading to mass extinction of marine life, panel says

Experts believe a lack of oxygen resulted in millions of dead anchovies floating in a marina in Los Angeles, California last March. The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) reported that human pollution and overfishing are two of many factors leading to the depletion of marine life at a faster rate than previously estimated.


Gabriel Bouys

Overfishing, pollution and climate change are pushing the world's oceans to the brink of a mass extinction of marine life on a scale unprecedented in human history, a group of scientists warned Monday, according to AFP.

Dying coral reefs, biodiversity damaged by invasive species, toxic algae blooms, ever-larger open-water "dead zones" and the depletion of stocks of big fish are all accelerating, the scientists said in a report compiled during an April meeting in Oxford of 27 of international ocean experts.

The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together specialists from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.

The IPSO report will be formally released later this week.

Three main factors are involved in the deterioration of the global marine environment, and all are a direct consequence of human activity: global warming, acidification and a dwindling level of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia, AFP said.

Up until recently, different factors that were thought to have a negative impact on the oceans and on marine life had been studied mainly in isolation. Scientists are only now starting to understand how these forces interact.

The oceans are degenerating far faster than anyone had predicted, the report says, because of the cumulative effect of the combination of individual stresses, the Independent said. The coming together of these factors is now threatening the marine environment with a catastrophe "unprecedented in human history," according to the report.

According to BBC News:

"The findings are shocking," said Alex Rogers, IPSO's scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University.

"As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized.

"We've sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we're seeing, and we've ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we're seeing changes that are happening faster than we'd thought, or in ways that we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years."

The accelerated changes include the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, a rising sea level, and the release of methane trapped in the sea bed.

The panel suggested that the potential extinction of a variety of marine species, from large fish to tiny corals, is comparable to the five great mass extinctions of life on the planet, reaching back more than 500 million years, the Independent said. Each of those mass extinctions, AFP said, was preceded by many of the same conditions the scientists are seeing afflicting the ocean environment.

And these symptoms could be the harbinger of wider disruptions in the interlocking pattern of life on Earth.

The scientists said the challenges facing the oceans created "the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history," according to the Guardian.

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