Every sea mammal and every type of fish, crustacean, and mollusk are on the critical list. So are the seabirds and the bears that depend on fish for their survival. Even the microscopic animals of the seas are in trouble. This is because air and industrial pollution is changing the acidity level of the oceans and poisoning sea life; because synthetic farming chemicals and farmed animal waste are causing massive algae blooms that block light and choke off waterlife; because of fishing, recreational, cruise line, industrial, and military watercraft; and because plastic trash is both killing marine life and gathering in and leaching chemicals into the rivers, lakes, and oceans. To put it mildly, what is going on in the oceans threatens every form of sea life, every form of life dependent on ocean life, and every human on every area of the planet.
Since the middle of the 1800s, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased in relation to the use of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas). The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide. But the amount of carbon dioxide being produced by humans is far beyond the amount that could be absorbed by the plants on Earth. The oceans, lakes, and rivers also absorb carbon dioxide. But the world’s bodies of water are absorbing far more carbon dioxide than they would in a balanced atmosphere.
The industrial pollution and carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels have greatly increased the acidity of the oceans. The oceans of the world are experiencing the worst acid trips ever. Because pollution can hang in the atmosphere for decades, the oceans keep absorbing more of it, and humans keep creating more of it, there are no signs that the acid trip of the seas is going to come down soon.
The situation doesn’t damage the marine life only at the surface, but impacts marine life miles below water. One of the most dire situations caused by pollution exists with coral reefs throughout the world.
Coral reefs are among the most endangered forms of marine life. They support all forms of ocean life, and 24% of all marine life lives directly in and around coral reefs, all of which are now on the critical list worldwide. Scientists have estimated that one fifth of the coral reefs around the planet have died in the last 50 years, and their extinction continues to increase.
In July of 2008, scientists from around the world gathered at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. While there, they were presented with a study by the Global Marine Species Assessment concluding that a third of Earth’s remaining coral reefs were threatened. Scientists at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology have determined that all varieties of coral reefs are the most endangered life forms on Earth.
Thousands of miles of coral reefs that were filled with life just a decade ago sit almost empty of life because of bleaching, dynamite fishing, overfishing, and rising temperatures and levels of water acidity, or they are being strangled by algae and bacteria overgrowth caused by pollution.
Many reefs are being killed by the runoff of synthetic chemical fertilizers and other gardening chemicals used to maintain the landscaping of tropical resorts; the turf of golf courses and sporting fields; lawns at homes, schools, and corporate campuses; and crops grown on farms.
When the fertilizers enter the ocean water, they spur algae growth that blankets and kills the coral reefs. In the natural balance, fish and other marine life would consume the algae, but with the double threat of overfishing and pollution, the algae has gotten out of control. Because marine life populations have plummeted, there aren’t enough fish or oysters and other filtering creatures to consume the amount of algae that would naturally occur. The fertilizers are causing so much algae growth that even a healthy population of marine life couldn’t keep up with the growth.
All of the remaining coral reefs in the oceans are growing at stunted rates, or they are dying. Most of the remaining coral reefs are supporting only a fraction of the marine life they hosted just a few decades ago. In addition to overfishing, development of coastal cities, boating, military activity, oil drilling, fertilizers, industrial pollution, and the related algae and bacteria overgrowth, the death of coral reefs is caused by the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed into the oceans.
In ocean water, carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid. An abundance of carbonic acid decreases carbonic ions. The carbonic ions are key components of the exoskeletons of the tiny polyps that form the coral reefs. Under natural circumstances, the polyps cling onto the reef while feeding from the water. As the polyps die, their skeletons become part of the reef and other polyps cling to the layers of skeletons. But when their systems aren’t able to absorb enough carbonic ions, the polyps can’t survive, don’t reproduce, and the coral reefs don’t grow.
When algae overgrowth sets into a coral reef, and when the marine life is not at healthful levels, the coral reefs are subjected to bacteria overgrowth. When the reefs are in balance, the marine life consumes the bacteria and algae as natural sources of food. But the marine life among most of the world’s coral reefs is no longer in balance. This provides the terrain for bacteria overgrowth among the coral reefs. The bacteria feast on the sugars released by the algae. The bacteria also feast on the eggs and sperm of the coral polyps, and also consume the polyps. This also contributes to the loss of coral reefs.
When coral reefs die off, so too does all marine life that is dependent on them. The death of coral reefs leaves coasts susceptible to erosion. When the coasts are damaged, wildlife dependent on the coastlines lose their homes. Many coastal areas, including kelp forests, mangrove forests, seagrass lagoons, tidepools, delta wetlands, salt marshes, and the mouths of rivers are the breeding areas and nurseries for fish and other waterlife.
The acidification of the oceans is only part of the problem that coastal waterlife faces. Throughout coastal areas of the world the mangrove swampland forests have been and continue to be destroyed to make way for resorts, piers, bridges, roads, parking lots, marinas, gas refineries, shipping ports, shopping villages, entertainment and sports venues, and for shrimp and other types of seafood farms. As the coasts are destroyed, so too are kelp and sea grass beds, wetlands and swamps, and the forms of life that depend on them.
The destruction of the coasts contributed greatly to the damage done by the tsunami that swept hundreds of thousands of people from villages and towns throughout the Indian Ocean region in December 2004. Clearing of coastal forests and damage to barrier islands to create fish, shrimp, and other seafood farms and to drill for oil also contributed to the strength of Hurricane Katrina that decimated the New Orleans region in 2005.
The damage to marine life that we have become aware of in the past decade is likely an example of what we will see in coming years. This is because the oceans keep absorbing carbon dioxide and pollution that has been hanging in the atmosphere for decades. As this happens, the oceans will increase in acidity and temperature.
Scientists have discovered that coral and shells actually dissolve when ocean water becomes too acidic. This specifically presents a potentially devastating situation for all forms of shell-based waterlife, and for the structures naturally left over as the shells gather.
The acidification of the oceans is expected not only to kill off and collapse coral reefs, but also destroy small islands (atolls) that are comprised of ancient coral reefs and tidal collections of old shells. Many small island nations consist of atolls. As the oceans become more acidic, which is expected as they continue to absorb carbon dioxide and industrial pollution from past and future decades, where will these island people move when their homes flood and the islands collapse?
Coral reefs aren’t the only forms of sea life dependent on an abundant supply of carbonic ions. All shellfish need carbonic ions to build their calcium carbonate skeletal structures. These include clams, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, krill, urchins, barnacles, and oysters. These crustaceans and mollusks provide food for otters, seals, walruses, seabirds, and other types of wildlife.
The microscopic plankton, which are the food for whales and krill, also have calcium carbonate shells. If the plankton populations decrease, the whales and krill-eating seabirds will die. Plankton levels in the oceans today are at an all-time low, and this is directly related to global warming and the acidification of the oceans, which is directly related to the use of fossil fuels, including the use of natural gas to create synthetic fertilizers.
Whales are facing a number of difficulties. Many whales have died when they have collided with ships, and many more have died because of hunting. Against international law, Japan, Norway, and Iceland still allow their citizens to hunt whales. In July 2008 the Japanese whaling community announced its plan to hunt 1,000 piked and 50 fin whales. SeaShephard.org has said that the Japanese also have threatened to hunt humpback whales.
It is a travesty that whale hunting still goes on. However, global warming poses even a greater threat to whales. If the plankton keep dying off, there will be no whales anywhere. The krill populations will plunge, and so will those of krill-eating seabirds.
What is happening with plankton is also happening with pteropods.
Pteropods are winged underwater creatures that live in the polar and subpolar seas. These marble-sized creatures are the food for cod, herring, pollack, and salmon. Pteropods also have calcium carbonate shells. Tests have shown that their shells dissolve in acidic conditions. This is another problem caused by the increasingly acidic conditions of the oceans. The pteropods feed off tiny crustaceans, including plankton. Many types of fish feed off the pteropods. And larger creatures, including otters, penguins, puffins, eagles, gulls, albatross, terns, pelicans, tundra swan, snow geese, seals, sea lions, polar bears, grizzly bears, and black bears, feed on the fish.
If the pteropod populations plunge, so will the populations of all of the marine life dependent on the pteropods, and so will the birds and land animals dependent on the fish. The demise of coral reefs and shellfish is only part of the problem waterlife is facing because of carbon dioxide, farming chemicals, and industrial pollution.
Fish, jellyfish, and other sea life suffer because the heavy metals in the pollution, such as mercury spewed by coal-burning electrical plants, interfere with the normal function and growth of their body tissues. This includes how their bones grow, how their nerves function, and in their ability to reproduce.
Carbon dioxide from air pollution hovering over water is known to gather in the tissues of fish and interfere with their absorption of oxygen, asphyxiating them. They also die off because of a lack of oxygen in the water caused by liquid pollutants.
Fertilizers pose a double threat to marine life because fertilizers cause both water and air pollution. The fertilizers are made from natural gas drilled from Earth, which means they are nitrogen-based. When they are spread on farms, lawns, and landscaping, the fertilizers emit nitrous oxide, which is nearly 300 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Synthetic chemical fertilizers run off from farmland during rainstorms and end up in rivers that flow into lakes and oceans.
The number-one use of synthetic fertilizer is for the growing of grain, alfalfa, and other crops for farmed animals. Unknown to most people is the fact that most of the food on every continent is grown to feed farmed animals, not humans. Most of the water and fuel used to grow food is used to grow food for farmed animals. Livestock consumes 70% of the grain, 80% of the corn, and 90% of the soy grown in the U.S. In 2007 there were over 20 billion pounds of fertilizer and over 175 billion pounds of pesticides used on U.S. farmland to grow food for farmed animals. The farmland used to grow the food for farmed animals uses an astounding 33% of arable land on the planet. Most or all of the wildlife that would have lived on that land naturally is displaced, or is killed off by farmers, ranchers, and government workers using guns, traps, and/or poisons.
Seventy percent of the formerly forested areas of the Amazon rain forest are used for grazing cattle, which compact and erode the land, damage creek and river beds, kill wildlife, and cause the extinction of species. The burning and clearcutting of all of that rainforest land has released enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and has removed billions of trees that were absorbing carbon dioxide while providing homes for wildlife.
When it is taken into consideration how much pollution is created to grow the food for the farmed animals, that farmed animals in the U.S. alone produce 60 million tons of manure each year, or 130 times more waste than the country’s human population; and that the animals and their waste emit methane gas, which is over 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide emitted from engines; and that manure emits nitrous oxide, it is easy to understand that animal farming and the meat industry create more global warming gasses than all forms of transportation combined, including cars, trucks, and airplanes.
In other words, hundreds of millions of farmed cows, sheep, goats, and pigs, and the billions of chickens and turkeys raised for food, and all of the resources used to grow food for them, to slaughter them, and to transport, package, refrigerate, and cook the meat are easily the leading cause of global warming and the pollution of and acidification of the oceans.
Fertilizers from farm and landscaping washing from the land, and nitrogen leaking into rivers from manure and urine pits cause excessive algae growth in the oceans. The floating blooms of algae spread through miles of water and choke off waterlife, which results in “dead zones” where all forms of waterlife natural to that area cannot survive. There are now over 150 dead zones in the world’s seas. The dead zones take up vast amounts of water, and they are all related to pollution.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the algae and bacterial growth in dead zones is directly related to the amount of synthetic fertilizers and farmed animal waste washing from farmland and into rivers that flow into the gulf. There, the algae growth and subsequent dead zones have been blamed for a spike in water temperatures. The decrease in fish populations in and around these dead zones has driven sharks closer to the coastlines, increasing the number of shark attacks on humans.
Dead zones are directly related to the global blight being experienced by oysters and clams throughout the world. The bacteria growing in the dead zones kill clam and oyster larvae. This was first discovered on the West Coast of North America at a facility in Newport, Oregon, in 2005. Just three years later, oyster and clam populations had plunged along the entire West Coast of North America. The number of larvae being killed by bacteria has been in the billions. East Coast waters are experiencing similar situations.
Damage to the largest estuary in the U.S., Chesapeake Bay, has been vast and all forms of marine life have been impacted. The tragedy is directly related to farming chemicals, farmed animal waste, industrial pollution, and lawn fertilizers. The water has become murky with algae, which blocks out light and allows for bacterial growth. Oyster, striped bass, and menhaden fish populations in the Chesapeake Bay have plummeted. The bay is the world’s main spawning ground for striped bass, which are now often found to be starving and with bacterial infections eating away at their flesh. The first to go were the oysters, which nearly vanished in the 1980s, and have never recovered. The population of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs has plunged by 70% in less than twenty years. The oysters and menhaden are natural water filterers, but even an abundance of them couldn’t keep up with the amount of microscopic substances growing in the bay.
Dead zones of algae and bacteria overgrowth caused by farming and industrial pollution in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and other saltwater bodies are impacting marine life in ways similar to what is happening in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the oceans, algae overgrowth caused by synthetic farming chemical pollution is becoming a problem in the world’s largest bodies of fresh water as well as throughout swamplands, saltwater marshes, tidal reefs, and other wetlands.
Waterlife throughout the world is also in danger because of the melting of the ice caps, which results in fresher water at the poles and saltier water near the equator. This is damaging to marine life in specific regions of the planet. Many types of marine life can exist only in water that is within certain ranges of salinity and temperature. If the water is changed for too long, those species become extinct.
The melting ice caps are also among several factors leading to the warming of the oceans. Ice reflects the heat of Sun. Where the ice has melted, the ocean water and the newly bare land absorbs the solar radiation heat that would naturally have been reflected back into space. This heat absorption delays and prevents the formation of new ice. The extent of ice melt of the polar caps is greater now than has ever been recorded. In September 2007 the ice of the Arctic Ocean melted to the extent that the Northwest Passage was accessible by boat for the first time in known history. There is less ice on the North Pole than has ever been recorded. The Bering Straight is now ice-free into December. Polar bears are losing their ice habitat needed to build their dens. And the melt extends into the permafrost of the soil. When the permafrost melts, the number of insects increases. It also brings birds to nest out of season. Adding to this tragedy is that companies are now seeing this as an opportunity to exploit the resources of this newly uncovered land. Petroleum and mining companies want access to this land so they can begin to extract whatever substances they can find to sell into the world market.
The changing ocean and atmospheric temperatures and the acidity of the water are playing a role in the accumulation of more water vapor in the global atmosphere. This is accelerating the occurrence of torrential storms, such as those that caused record flooding in the American Midwest in June 2008. Other causes of this excessive accumulation of water in the atmosphere include the destruction of millions of acres of mountain and rain forests, which would normally hold water; clearing millions of acres of land of natural habitat on every continent to plant huge plots of monocropped grain to feed billions of farmed animals; and the covering of billions of acres of land with driveways, roads, highways, bridges, parking lots, and parking garages to support car culture.
Those of us who live in coastal areas are becoming all too aware of the damage being done to the oceans. In 2005 there were nearly 20,000 beach closings on U.S. shores triggered by pollution. Similar beach closings are becoming common everywhere from Asia to Australia, from South and Central America, from Mediterranea and Africa, and among islands throughout the world.
As plastic has become a popular material for manufacturing an increasing number of products, it has also become a problem for the environment. In 2006 the U.S. produced an estimated 113 billion pounds of plastic. Throughout the coastal areas of the planet, on beaches in the middle of the oceans, and in areas far from major cities, tons of plastic pollution gather on the sand and rocky shores, and get tangled among coral reefs and underwater rock formations. There are now bits of plastic of all sorts floating in the oceans, rivers, and lakes throughout the world. A 2006 study by the U.N. estimated that each square mile of ocean has as many as 46,000 pieces of various sizes of plastic floating in it. Plastic bits are mistaken for food by seabirds, turtles, and other sea creatures, causing their death due to blocked digestive tracks. Other plastic materials, including fishing nets and plastic bags, end up strangling birds, turtles, otters, seals, and other sea creatures that get entangled in the plastics. So much has accumulated in the oceans that there are large, swirling pools of plastic trash spread over hundreds of miles. The largest collection of plastic stew in the oceans exists in the Pacific halfway between California and the Hawaiian Islands. It is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Some material pulled from this stew has been identified as being from plastics manufactured as early as the 1940s.
This indicates that how people live and what they do at work even at a great distance from the ocean can impact far away marine life, and for decades. The simple act of allowing plastic trash to enter lakes, rivers, or the ocean can result in the death of a fish, turtle, bird, or dolphin living years in the future.
A decrease in any variety of smaller types of waterlife is damaging to seabirds, to bears, and to other forms of wildlife that rely on healthful populations of waterlife. When the bird and bear populations suffer, so to do the forests. The nutrients that collect in the bodies of the birds and bears feeding from oceans, rivers, and lakes naturally end up as nutrients in the land, feeding the plants. Marine carbon and nitrogen isotopes are two beneficial atomic nutrients brought into the forests by animals and birds eating fish. Even animals living hundreds of miles away from the oceans feed on fish that make their way upstream to spawn.
When the birds and bears don’t get the food they need, their populations suffer. That is currently happening. Large numbers of sea birds are dying, and many are abandoning their nests because they aren’t finding the food they need to feed their young. The birds are also being poisoned by industrial waste and by the same excessive amounts of bacteria caused by farming and industrial pollution that is putting marine life out of balance. What is going on with the marine birds is also happening with bears. Many bears are underweight, many are found to have weak bones, and others are simply abandoning their young. Bears are also turning to cannibalism as their natural food sources are vanishing.
The forests of the world are where many of the rivers start that empty into the oceans. The forests are being damaged or eliminated by development, logging, road building, pestilence, the spread of cattle culture, and fire. This is damaging the headwaters of rivers, the flood plains, and other wetlands, and the wildlife dependent on them. The depletion of wildlife populations is also impacting the forests because it is depleting the forests of nutrients. When the forests don’t get the nutrients they need, the immune systems of the trees weaken, making the trees susceptible to beetle infestations, rot, and fire – which are also conditions accelerating because of global warming and drought. By the summer of 2008, California had already experienced more fires than for any entire year of recorded history. This is at a time when salmon runs have also been lower than ever.
The predator animals and other mammals living on and near the ice caps are also under threat from a silent danger that is biomagnifying in their food chain. Because the predator animals are at the top of the food chain, they are collecting all of the pollutants in their bodies that exist in the fatty tissues of the smaller creatures they eat. Although they live far from industrial society, the body tissues of these creatures have been found to contain fire retardants, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds used to make Teflon, and other industrial chemicals. Seabirds, forest birds, seals, foxes, bears, whales, and fish living in the southern and northern regions of the planet have all been found to contain these chemicals. It is wreaking havoc on their hormone levels, on their bone and nerve structures, and on their birth rates.
One of the most common chemicals found in polar bears is a fire retardant used in furniture, blankets, mattresses, carpeting, plastics, and in cell phones, televisions, and other electronics. These chemicals are known to disrupt thyroid and sex hormones, impair mental abilities and motor skills, and to alter brain development. Bears are being found with weakened immune systems, and the milk of lactating bears has been found to contain enough of these chemicals to jeopardize the health of cubs. These problems are directly attributed to the pollution the polar bears are accumulating in their body tissues by consuming fish living in polluted oceans. With only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the wild, it is a tragedy that they are facing the problems of chemical pollutants and melting ice caps. At one time the main threats humans posed to polar bears included only hunting and deforestation. The existence of polar bears on the planet may soon come to an end.
The killing of marine life for human consumption remains a threat to many types of sea creatures.
The worldwide fishing industry is playing a major role in destroying the oceans. Fish species are becoming rare or extinct in regions where they were common just decades ago. Every type of sea turtle is endangered. And massive fishing operations continue to set billions of hooks every year to capture large fish. What they end up doing is killing sea life of all sorts. It is estimated that 25% of the sea life captured is not acceptable to the fishing fleets, and these dead or dying creatures are tossed back into the water.
A global study authored by 14 marine biologists that was published in the November 3, 2006, issue of the journal Science concluded that unless humanity makes enormous changes in the way they live and in what they eat, the entire populations of the world’s fished species will collapse by about 2048. The study considered evidence from all of the world’s 64 large marine ecosystems. They found that 91 percent of native species suffered from a 50 percent decrease, and 7 percent were extinct. Continued overfishing as well as coastal land development, habitat destruction, and world pollution are to blame. The study pointed out that nearly 29 percent of species that are fished have collapsed (defined by being below 10 percent of historic highs). The study said that the fish populations were rapidly decreasing and losing entire functional groups. The study says that the oceans will not be able to recover from the decline of so many species. The study authors wrote, “Our analyses suggest that business as usual would foreshadow serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality, and ecosystem stability, affecting current and future generations.” Many scientists throughout the world voiced their opinions in agreement with the study.
Massive nets are being dragged across the ocean floors at deeper and deeper levels to capture fish that were once abundant, but are becoming sparse or nonexistent in places where they had existed since their species began. Many nets get caught on underwater rock formations and are then abandoned as “ghost nets,” which continue to kill as fish and sea mammals get tangled in them. The massive fishing operations cause a destabilizing of sea life biodiversity, extinguishing populations that rely on others to survive. Deep-sea trawling is the equivalent of killing every bird, animal, and bug in a forest during a hunt for several hundred deer. Many of these massively destructive fishing expeditions operate on government subsidies and are protected by laws formed to protect not the oceans or sea life, but the profits of the fishing industry.
Additional damage is being caused to waterlife by the hundreds of millions of pharmaceutical drugs taken every day and ending up in the water bodies of the planet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 130 million Americans use prescription drugs every month. As the American way of consuming unhealthful foods while leading sedentary lifestyles spreads to other countries, so too does the occurrence of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions related to consuming junk foods and animal protein-dominant diets. This has led to a global increase in the number of people taking synthetic chemical prescription drugs. The drugs end up in the waters of the world because the drugs are urinated away, or expired and unwanted prescriptions are flushed down toilets. Hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, testing labs, and the military often dump unused and expired drugs into sinks and toilets. As the chemical drugs dissolve into the waterways they wreak havoc on water life. Scientists have tested marine life from all over the planet and found that their tissues contain prescription medications, including antibiotics and synthetic hormones, and drugs for pain, for birth control, for erectile dysfunction, for hair loss, for heart organ diseases, for allergies, for acne, for weight loss, for mood disorders, and for cancer chemotherapy.
Pharmaceutical drugs, farming chemicals, industrial pollutants, and greenhouse gasses are directly related to the global decline of frogs and related amphibians. Pharmaceuticals and industrial pollutants also are the cause of more and more amphibians being found with both sex organs; with extra limbs, and with other physical deformities.
Consider that you play a role in the health of the oceans. When you see water, realize that you and all life on the planet consist mainly of water. If the water bodies of Earth are not healthy, neither is humanity. If life in and around the water bodies of Earth die, so will humanity.