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Is the ocean broken?

An article entitled “The Ocean is Broken” is making waves on social media. In this emotional article in The Newcastle Herald, a yachty, Ivan Macfadyen, reports the lack of fish and marine life and loads of garbage at sea in a sailing trip across the Pacific to conclude that the Ocean is Broken.

I understand Ian’s feelings, as I too have sailed many - tens of thousands - ocean miles as a researcher on board researcher vessels across all oceans and as a sailor on my sailboat enjoying the slow and silent pace of life propelled by wind and waves.

Ian Macfadyen touches upon two issues I have discussed here, overfishing and plastic pollution. These are real problems, as more than three-quarters of the ocean’s fish stocks have been depleted, sometimes beyond recovery, and, particularly, the global tuna fishery can be better portrayed as war on tuna than as a fishery. Fortunately, Australia’s fisheries are generally well managed and most of our fish stocks are still healthy and strong.

The ocean also contains large amounts of plastic debris, floating across the world’s ocean, harming marine life.

Yes, Macfadyen is right, there are plenty of problems in the ocean, but it is not yet broken. I am increasingly upset about reports that portray the ocean as broken and helpless. We scientists are to blame, to some extent, as we love bombarding people with trouble and bad news, composing a narrative that is overly apocalyptic, what I refer to as the plagues of the ocean. Depicting the ocean as broken makes the problem seem boundless and eventually deters society from engaging, giving up to an ocean portrayed as already broken.

The conventional narrative extends from plastic pollution and overfishing into a litany of plagues including the proliferation of impacts associated with climate change, hypoxia, eutrophication, ocean acidification, marine pests, such as spreading jellyfish blooms, and loss of valuable habitat. Many of these are happening, but their severity and immediacy are sometimes exaggerated through a feedback loop involving, among other factors, spinning of research headlines to compete for media attention. This is why I enjoy writing for The Conversation, providing a direct contact between a readership of educated citizens and scientists, devoid of mediators and media hype.

Let’s focus on Macfadyen’s evidence for a broken ocean: two snapshots of the Pacific, 10 years apart, suggesting a depletion of marine life and huge plastic pollution.

The ocean is a dynamic ecosystem, showing broad fluctuations over time in almost all properties, from physical and chemical properties to the largest fauna. These fluctuations often deceive the casual observer and high-quality data involving systematic long-term observations are necessary to detect real changes from the noise in these fluctuations.

For instance, my co-workers and I conducted an analyses of global changes in jellyfish to find that there is no basis to support the claim that they are increasing globally, one of the plagues of an allegedly broken ocean. Our results, reported this year, showed that jellyfish experience broad fluctuations of approximately 20 year cycles that mislead scientists and the public into the perception that the most recent rising phase of these cycle (roughly between late 1990s and 2008) was an unprecedented event signalling, again, the oceans being broken.

Put simply, our analysis showed that such fluctuations happened in the past, but very few scientists were watching and they lacked channels, such as the internet, to share their results.

Likewise, we also now know that many changes that are portrayed as symptoms of a broken ocean, such as coral bleaching, outbreaks of populations such as that of the of crown of thorns starfish or toxic algae, and others, may largely represent symptoms of global oscillations, which we do not yet fully understand and where human drivers may play little or no role. Separating natural process from human impacts entwined in such fluctuations is a daunting task, so we should not be too quick to jump to conclusion and blame humans for all changes we perceive in the ocean.

Australia has given itself a model system to observe its oceans, called the Integrated Marine Observation System, including a broad array of tools to observe ocean properties from physical to biological with an emphasis in detecting change. IMOS has set the benchmark for marine observation systems around the world by the scale, scope and thoroughness of its components, and the fact that all data are freely available to all.

Australians should feel proud of the development of IMOS, but how can you feel proud about something you’ve never heard about? We, scientists, need to step up our actions to communicate to the public what we do, and the outcomes of the small share of taxes that is allocated toward the stewardship of our oceans.

In fact, the Achilles heel of IMOS is likely its sustainability on a landscape of increasing austerity of public expenditure, threatening to do away with programs such as IMOS, which struggle year after year to survive and continue to deliver value to Australians and the world. But we cannot monitor the oceans just with buoys, gliders and satellites, we need to be able to go to sea and take samples to verify what our instruments indicate.

Australia is grossly under-resourced for research at sea, with a capacity for seagoing research across our 40,000 kilometres of coastline, comparable to that of Belgium with only 70km. But a major milestone in addressing this chronic problem will soon come to fruition with the launching of the R/V Investigator, arguably the world’s most modern research vessel, an oceanic class 94 m vessel being built in Singapore and soon to be sailing our oceans in voyages of discovery and stewardship under CSIRO management.

Availability of observations and research capacities at sea allow us to build and verify models to grasp ocean dynamics. Soon after the tsunami of March 2011 that triggered the Fukushima accident, NOAA published models that predicted how the huge patch of debris washed to the ocean by the power of the retreating waves would take three years to travel across the ocean to strand, sometime in March 2014, along the beaches of California, Oregon and Washington in the USA.

Had Macfadyen checked NOAA’s web page, he would have been prepared to meet the garbage patch he encountered with such a devastating emotional impact. I gave a public lecture on this topic at UWA on October 15th, but I could not download the latest model predictions from NOAA, as this essential system had been down due to the budgetary crisis in the USA.

The tsunami was not a human-driven impact, so we should moderate the feeling of guilt about so much debris, along with many human lives, lost at sea. It does, however, provide a brutal exposure to the reality of our lives, surrounded by a fever to consume and dispose of too many objects, many of them manufactured with materials made of or containing harmful chemicals, that we get to use just for a few minutes and throw away, as with most plastics.

What kind of fishing line did Macfadyen use in his first voyage? What happened to this fishing line when he was done fishing? What harmful chemicals went into the antifouling paint for his boat’s haul? These are the kind of questions we must be asking ourselves, and bring down our footprint in the environment before a tsunami washes all our useless artifacts into the ocean.

Likewise, do we ask ourselves how and where was the fish we consumed with our last meal captured?. Did it come from a sustainable fishery or a sustainable aquaculture farm?, Did we bother to ask if it was a certified product? Do we demand that this information be displayed to guide our choices as consumers?

Should we eat tuna, which at trophic level 5 in the food web sits at the same level as a monster eating wolf-eaters, or should we settle for sardines, oysters and seaweed for tonight’s meal? Was that chicken we ate yesterday for dinner fed fish flour? Do we drive a 4WD car contributing to releasing CO2 that will acidify our oceans further, or do we cycle, drive a hybrid or electric vehicle or catch a bus powered by biofuels?

Do we vote to have our marine parks and carbon tax removed because we, Australians, with one of the strongest economies and highest per capita footprints in the world, cannot afford them?

These questions are not easy ones to ask ourselves, but are needed to force us to confront our contradictions. We enjoy eating seafood, which is an essential component of a healthy diet. We know fisheries are depleted or, at best, exploited close to their limit, so the development of aquaculture provides the only avenue to sustainably meat the growing demands for seafood as population grows. But we get upset if we can see an aquaculture farm protruding from the horizon off our coasts.

Responsible consumers will not break the ocean; those who chose to ignore the consequences of their day-to-day decisions as consumers will.

The arena where the struggle to spare the oceans from breaking is fought everyday, not once every 10 years, is at our local shops.

Join the conversation

60 Comments sorted by

  1. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    The statistic that 'more than 3/4’s of ocean’s fish stocks have been depleted, sometimes beyond recovery' is enough to sound warning bells about Australia continuing its efforts to look after this part of the world.

    Marine parks, as well as giving marine life some respite from human pursuit, also encourage people to value the natural environment.

    We are blessed that the national parks system has preserved many unique species, despite the ongoing threats of introduced pests and (more recently) hunting enthusiasts.

    As to the immense tragedy of birds, fish and other animals swallowing plastics, it's more than time that some sort of international treaty be signed to make plastic-producers responsible for either recycling or bio-degrading all forms of their products.

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    1. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Lee Emmett

      "Marine parks, as well as giving marine life some respite from human pursuit, also encourage people to value the natural environment."

      Do they ? Seems to me all they do is encourage depletion elsewhere and cause a larger problem eg transporting all that fish product back to Aus. I suspect that when those other areas are then depleted totally, the marine parks will be reopened to fishing, much like National Parks in QLD to grazing.

      The only real solution is behaviour modification, as this article suggests. We don't eat much fish because of this.

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  2. Mark McGuire

    climate consensus rebel

    Quote: "We scientist are to blame, to some extent, as we love bombarding people with trouble and bad news, composing a narrative that is overly apocalyptic, what I refer to as the plagues of the ocean." To the detriment of all science, this 'narrative' is the template for global warming climate science. The wisdom of the old fables like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is lost on some: https://theconversation.com/search?q=communicating+climate+science . Despite acknowledgment above, the "overly apocalyptic narrative" continues;"Do we drive a 4-WD car contributing to releasing CO2 that will acidify our oceans further ..." . And the sky is falling as well.

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Carlos is trying to give an accurate assessment of the state of the oceans - which while not good is not beyond our capacity to do something about.
      "Ivan Macfadyen touches upon two issues I have discussed here, overfishing and plastic pollution. These are real problems, as more than 3/4’s of the ocean’s fish stocks have been depleted, ..."

      You on the other hand continue to troll your climate science denial at every opportunity, completely ignorant of the science and feeding incessantly at the climate crank blogs.

      Carlos's argument could also be made in respect of climate change generally.

      It is the cranks who refer to CAGW, not scientists.

      6C warming by 2100 is only one possible future. We still have the capacity to do something about it. But first we have to send the climate science denying ideologues back to the lunatic fringe where they belong.

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    2. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      " We still have the capacity to do something about it." Actually, we - Australia - don't have the capacity to do anything useful to reduce global GHG emissions. It's a global problem that will only be solved by global action.Even so, Mark McGuire's comment is off topic.

      Carlos's article is a good one - well balanced and realistic. It's worth noting that plastics aren't the critically serious problem that some people suggest. A chemically and biologically inert plastic floating in the ocean may be offensive to us humans but, if it's not leaking dangerous chemicals into the water which then impact upon fish and other marine life, such plastic is more of an aesthetic problem. However, consumption of bags by turtles and of plastic pieces by sea birds can be serious local problems and therefore need addressing, albeit not on the basis that the oceans are broken and require radical corrective surgery.
      Carlos' s suggested priorities for action are sensible and should be followed.

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    3. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      To be fair, climate change is an apocalyptic scenario

      We never hear of people accusing the CFA of being alarmist - we trust that when they say this is a state of emergency, it is really a state of emergency

      however when you say that climate change threatens the existence of our species - what do we hear? boooooo, alarmist, extremist, crazy, etcetera

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    4. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      "don't have the capacity to do anything useful to reduce global GHG emissions." - really? we don't have even 1% capacity?

      you are lying

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    5. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Climate science deniers are like mythical goldfish. Once around the bowl and they have forgotten everything that has gone before.

      Carlos writes an optimistic article about the oceans and suddenly he has a new set of best friends. :-)
      It is as if he was writing his first column.

      But unfortunately they bring with them the usual lies about the science. Like the fake environmentalist Bernie Masters who claims
      "Carlos's article is a good one - well balanced and realistic. It's worth noting that…

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    6. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike your continued use of defamatory ad homs is becoming embarrassing. Please read the editorial guidelines and stick to them.

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    7. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Phillip

      Actually John I think it's about 1.5% of global emmissions that we create in Australia.

      As for the difference we can make, that is nto restricted to Australian emmissions, we can make a hell of a difference across the world by actively engaging in conversation with people at a grass roots level over the internet.

      And that's just for a start - but you keep complaining while we keep doing

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    8. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Michael Shand

      That's my point, Michael. We're not actually achieving anything. Your 1.5% figure is out of date BTW. As the emissions from China and India have continued to grow, ours have shrunk proportionally.

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    9. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Phillip

      "1.5% figure is out of date BTW" - Thanks, do you know what it is currently?

      "We're not actually achieving anything" - Again, you keep complaining whilst we keep doing

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    10. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to John Phillip

      @John Philip
      If I thought that you had any idea what the "ad hominem" fallacy actually is, I would be concerned.

      Here is a clue. Posting little more than "Adam Bandt is a fool ..." because you reject climate science is a good example.

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    11. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike point one: Adam Bandt is a politician, not a respondent on this site. He is fair game - you've done a fair bit of attacking pollies yourself. Point 2: I don't reject climate science. You don't like some of the questions I ask because you are uncomfortable with the implications of stating the answers. Adam Bandt is a fool - his leap into shrill hysterical rhetoric is part of the reasons the greens are a declining force in this country.

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    12. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Michael Shand

      LOL. What is it exactly that you are doing, Chris? How do you measure the success or failure of your actions? What is your methodology?
      Answer to all: nothing.

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    13. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Phillip

      "LOL. What is it exactly that you are doing, Chris? How do you measure the success or failure of your actions? What is your methodology?
      Answer to all: nothing."

      Come on John, if you actually want to know I could tell you, this is just you being a hateful old man

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    14. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      John absolutely rejects climate change;

      it seems we are in the next stage of denial where the denialists can no longer state they don't accept the science

      now the claim is that the science suggests climate change is not a big deal.....and anyone who says otherwise is an alarmist

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    15. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Michael Shand

      LOL. you are so full of it, Michael. I don't reject climate change. I am honest about the effects that action taken in Australia will have on it. Try being honest yourself instead of spreading the lies and criticism that you do.
      I realise that doesnt fit with your simpleton's one dimensional view but hard luck. So, Michael, don't claim to quote me when all you are doing is lying.

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    16. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Phillip

      Don't quite have time now, but all your comments are recorded against your profile.

      Give me sometime this afternoon and I will provide you with your own quotes

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    17. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      "Actually, we - Australia - don't have the capacity to do anything useful to reduce global GHG emissions"

      On the flip side, we sure as hell aren't helping by continuing to emit

      and based on this same logic, Australians can consume all the fish we want, we can't deplete the worlds oceans with only 23 Million of us.

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    18. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to John Phillip

      "As the emissions from China and India have continued to grow, ours have shrunk proportionally."

      and much of their emissions are simply us (Annex 1 nations) off-setting our emissions eg export manufacturing to China, blame China for emissions.

      That's why I support a carbon consumption tax, not a carbon emissions tax.

      Professor Deiter Helm explains it here

      http://e360.yale.edu/feature/forget_kyoto_putting_a_tax_on_carbon_consumption/2590/

      "But before we get carried away blaming China, it is important to work out why this increase has taken place. China’s phenomenal economic growth has been based on exports"

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    19. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      "Actually, we - Australia - don't have the capacity to do anything useful to reduce global GHG emissions." With respect, I must disagree: Australia is a big part of the world, whatever we do here is either catching up with the rest of the world, or is leading the world. Either way, it's necessary.

      Agree with you about Mr McGuire's blow-off and Prof Duarte's thoughtful essay.

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    20. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to John Phillip

      Given that 100% of fossil fuel use must cease, when the rest of the world stops using fossil fuel then Australia will be 100% of the problem.

      Or, we can be worth or even ahead of the game, and make money licencing technology overseas. Using our brains instead of just digging up our country - now that's what I call a business model.

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  3. Sean Arundell

    Uncommon Common Sense

    Carlos Duarte said: "This is why I enjoy writing for The Conversation, providing a direct contact between a readership of educated citizens and scientists, devoid of mediators and media hype." And please do not stop Carlos! Great article, really excellent in every way! Thank you, Sean
    Related Ref: Sea level in the 5th IPCC report by Stefan Rahmstorf @ 15/10/2013 What is happening to sea levels?http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/ Since 2000 Stefan teaches physics of the oceans as a professor at Potsdam University. Rahmstorf is a member of the Advisory Council on Global Change of the German government and of the Academia Europaea. He is a lead author of the Paleoclimate Chapter of the 4th assessment report of the IPCC.

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  4. Alex Korban

    Director

    Thank you for the article, Carlos. I read "The Ocean is Broken" and your article is a great counterpoint. It's always good to hear the scientific perspective.

    I appreciate the questions you listed. I do wonder, however, if the problems with the oceans are similar to the issues of climate change. Are personal behaviour changes sufficient to address the problems of the oceans, or do we need global policy changes (e.g. establishment of large marine reserves) to really make a difference?

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  5. Tony Smith

    Complex Systems Analyst

    Hanging a marginal argument on a linguistic oversimplification is fraught.

    "Broken"!

    If a horse breaks a bone in one of its four legs we shoot her, ensuring broken equals dead.

    If a human does likewise in one of her two legs, she has to face a period of incapacity, healing and rehabilitation.

    Ocean ecosystems are a vital leg of all major planetary system, and they are clearly more broken than your typical human leg break.

    Maybe cancer would have been a better description, because…

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Tony Smith

      Tony,

      You said: "While white male white collar triumphalism"

      You managed to smear with racism, sexism and classism in a topic where none of these issues are of any relevance.

      Well done you.

      Way to go to demean an excellent article.

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    2. Tony Smith

      Complex Systems Analyst

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, if that is a smear, I'm smearing myself as totally complicit, but in old age seeing how much damage our self-indulgence does.

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    3. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Tony Smith

      Tony,

      Are you so obsessed with middle class white males that you don't appreciate that black, brown and female type people also buy fish? You grabbed on to this issue to smear people for being white, male and middle class (white collar). What was with this obsession with race and gender? Why the need to smear this group with nonsensical claims of triumphalism?

      An obsession with race is just that, regardless of the race you are obsessed with. I can assure you, to me the act of buying a fish is more related to thoughts of dinner than thoughts of race triumphalism. But, hey, any excuse to smear whatever race and gender you choose to despise huh?

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    4. Tony Smith

      Complex Systems Analyst

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, you are reading the adjectival sense of my noun phrase in reverse. If I'm obsessing about anything it is about the triumphalism that underpins many excesses of us v them, in this case the them living their lives conveniently out of sight & mind beneath the ocean. "White collar" is not a class label, but rather shorthand for a cluster of occupations which dominate pseudo-intellectual discourse, setting ourselves up as an aspiration for all far beyond any justification, idealising only that…

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    5. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Tony Smith

      Tony,

      There is no such thing as 'reverse' racism (sexism, classism). Racism is racism. Whether you smear on the basis of being black, white or brindled is irrelevant. You choose to smear on the basis of being white? So what? Race smear is just that. Don't fantasise that because you are a progressive, a 'nice person', that that gives you a free pass.

      That you smear on the basis of race is all that matters. Which race you smear is irrelevant. Ditto gender.

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    6. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Chris Harper

      LOL.

      Harper like Andrew Bolt is playing the professional victim.

      The following is **racism** - from the author H L Mencken who you cited earlier.
      " it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it."

      Noting that you are likely a cranky old conservative white bloke with all the associated prejudices is not.

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    7. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike,

      Thank you for that about Mencken. I was unaware of that quote or his attitude to race. Although, in retrospect, it should have been no surprise. Mencken was a Democrat at a time when the Democrat Party and the Klan were pretty much just two faces of the same organisation. A lot like the Fabians I guess, pretty much vicious racists to a man, and woman that lot. That bloke GB Shaw was actually an exterminationist.

      So, what do you think? Should we label everyone who quotes Pygmalion as a…

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    8. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Tony Smith

      Rather than approach this with a top-down perspective, would it not make sense (in the absence of perfect analyses of complex systems) to have a botton-up go at fixing what we can and see if that improves things?

      I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes it is necessary to run real-time experiments. What a shame we only have one planet on which to experiment.

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  6. andy good

    business manager and consultant

    Carlos is right to point out both the complexity but also some small steps to mitigate them. However, without wishing to denigrate his scientific contribution, (I have a degree in science and understand the method) like so many conversations, the Australian style rapidly polarises to my opinion vs yours. Who is right and who is wrong. The climate debate (if you will) is a strong case of the deaf shouting at the deaf. The science no longer matters. Perhaps the oceans offer another example.
    I read…

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    1. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to andy good

      Excellent point, Andy. It is vital that individuals take responsibility for doing what is right. This applies to all spheres and not just the environment. Insisting government take action all too often provides a rationale that 'allows' individuals to forego their personal responsibilities - 'it's the government's job' and so on.

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    2. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to andy good

      "Australia must have a very percentage of boat users and fisherman compared to most educated countries yet I do not hear their voices in environmental debates"

      It's the binary nature of most things in Australia, Environmentalism being one of them. Fishermen would make excellent partners for fish conservation. I remember a somewhat heated exchange on ABC RN some years back where a leading member of some fishing advocacy group was explaining the close ties between anglers in the UK and the Environmental movement. How they used anglers to gather data, report back on fish catches etc and conversely how this relationship was toxic in Australia. Then some member of a large NGO Environmental Group started saying how anglers were the very definition of exploiters and .... the conversation went downhill from there.

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  7. Reg Nansen

    Retiree

    What I got out of the ocean is broken article which is not acknowledged here is that the Pacific Ocean has been well and truly nuked. The whale with large tumour on its head was the giveaway. I wonder has the IMOS ever taken radiation readings from the Pacific? Can you comment on its radioactivity? I contacted ARPANSA not long after the Japanese meltdown to find out where Australian monitoring sites were and what readings they were getting. There is apparently no permanent monitoring equipment in…

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    1. Onder Outluk

      logged in via email @fastmail.fm

      In reply to Reg Nansen

      Don't worry, Carlos says the 'responsible consumer' will sort it out. Something fishy here ... passing responsibility to an oxy-moron.

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  8. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    First class article, relying on rationally interpreted long term observation. It makes a pleasant change from the constant scares that H L Mencken warned us about.

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Chris Harper

      H L Mencken. That would be the American writer who said of the negro

      " it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it."

      As well as being quite racist, he also had a caustic tongue…

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    2. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike,

      And this is relevant how?

      That was a tongue in cheek reference to:
      "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

      I have no idea why you think I have any interest in what you are otherwise saying about him.

      FYI, there is no equivalence between those who question the use of nonsense concepts like 'consensus science' and reject appeals to authority and those who question Darwinism for theological reasons. The claim is absurd.

      In fact, the equivalence is in the other direction.

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    3. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Mencken? Well, we have just had an election, and we voted ourselves a new PM.

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    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Err, while the whole aim of practical politics may indeed to keep the populace alarmed, over-population is a matter of logistics, and climate is a matter of atmospheric physics.

      Neither are issues of politics, but there are some pig ignorant geese who don't know this.

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  9. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer

    It’s nice to read a scientist’s attempt at being optimistic, but I have difficulty in agreeing with “there are plenty of problems in the ocean, but it is not yet broken.” I suppose, as mentioned by others, it depends on your definition of “broken”. And comparative studies being separated by only ten years is a pretty minimal time-frame – serious damage was already done well before then, e.g. with northern cod fisheries, now virtually extinct in most places. Almost 30 years ago, I was very fortunate…

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  10. Reg Nansen

    Retiree

    Further to my previous post, I cannot fathom how anyone serious about the health of the Pacific Ocean can be unaware of the severe contamination that is continuing, nor be particularly concerned about it.
    "Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean."
    1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering fromfur loss and open sores…

    2. There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline…

    3. Along the Pacific…

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  11. Luke Barrett

    Ecologist

    Great article - I reckon one of the best I've come across on TC.

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  12. Alec Sevins

    logged in via Facebook

    Any article discussing resource depletion that fails to mention human population growth is lacking major context.

    The world's population is growing by roughly two Californias per year, or 75-80 million people. That's the net gain of births over deaths, and it's been enabled by fossil fuels for the most part. Instead of discussing "overfishing" or "deforestation" or "traffic congestion" there should be frank talk about human overbreeding.

    No other species constantly rampages like a plague on the land and sea, and pretends that burning finite oil is "income" rather than depletion. The whole notion of perpetual "economic growth" is insane when you look at the math.

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    1. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Alec Sevins

      "there should be frank talk about human overbreeding."

      Sure is a huge problem. Ranking number (2) behind (1) AGW in terms of urgency. Several academics seem to think if (1) isn't handled, (2) will be by default. Unfortunately, it's the people who contribute least (non Annex 1 countries) to the problem of AGW, who will suffer the most.

      http://www.smh.com.au/environment/too-hot-to-handle-can-we-afford-a-4degree-rise-20110709-1h7hh.html

      "Keynote speaker Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and climate adviser to the German Chancellor and to the EU, has said that in a 4-degree warmer world, the population “carrying capacity estimates [are] below 1billion people”"

      Similarly Professor Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Climate Centre

      report