Saturday, August 16, 2014

Planetary change: What we are doing to the oceans

Direct experience drives human perception and cognition.  We react to what we see and hear.  What we think about the world is shaped by those aspects of our planet that can be observed.  We note volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.  We see and hear and are touched by more and more violent weather.  We indirectly experience, via the media, the loss of wildlife to gruesome acts of poaching for profit.  Some of us even experience the rising seas.  But we do not normally experience or think about what lies beneath the planetary surface.  

Most people don't have any direct contact with what lies beneath the surface of our oceans even though oceans take up 71% of the earth's surface.   A few people, though, oceanographers and sport divers, are sounding alarms about what we are doing to our oceans.   A new documentary by Netflix, starring the pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle, exposes industrial fishing and other forces decimating the oceans' inhabitants.  You may never eat fish again after watching this one.  Here are snippets from the Mother Jones blog.

There are also some very powerful scenes, in which Earle is shocked and devastated as she visits Japanese fish markets where young tuna are slaughtered before they've even had a chance to reproduce, and in which she vigilante-dives with a camera to film industrial fishermen sucking up gigantic hauls of fish, like something out of a high seas version of The Lorax. You can watch that scene above [link in the Mother Jones blog].
No wonder Earle herself refuses to eat fish. As the above segment ends, Mission Blue unveils an incredible statistic about the damage we have done to our oceans since the year 1950. Now, compared with then, only 5 percent of bluefin tuna remain; only 10 percent of sharks remain; and only 5 percent of Atlantic cod remain. It's really that bad.

No, it's really worse.  For 35 years my wife and I took our vacations in parts of the world renowned for the quality of their SCUBA diving.  We rarely repeated visits, but the island of Little Cayman (in the Cayman Islands) was an exception.  We first dove the Little Cayman walls and reefs in 1987 and repeated the diving there in 2001 and then again over the Christmas/New Year holidays in 2006.  In 1987 coral reefs were majestic: huge mushroom corals and gigantic sponges were abundant.  We noted some damage in 2001, but the visit in 2006 was depressing.  We witnessed a lot of destruction and coral "bleaching".  I would be more cautious of our anecdotes were it not for confirmatory observations from another group who we met in 2006 and who had been diving that island every New Years for 25 years.  They all were sickened by what they had been observing over the years - "in tears."  

As the oceans warm and chemically change due to CO2 absorption, the coral reefs are under serious threat.  We don't see that damage but it is there -- beneath the surface, out of sight, and all too often out of mind.  We are killing the water planet.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Bill. I heard a snippet on Science Friday yesterday but missed the title of the movie.
    My book group discussed "The Sixth Extinction"'s too late in the process to alter it.