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Solutions for our ‘broken’ oceans

We’ve heard quite a bit about the health of our oceans lately. Australian yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen recently retraced his oceanic voyage of ten years ago from Melbourne to Japan, finding an absence of sea…

Fixing our oceans is going to take a new perspective. Flickr/Carmyarmyofme

We’ve heard quite a bit about the health of our oceans lately. Australian yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen recently retraced his oceanic voyage of ten years ago from Melbourne to Japan, finding an absence of sea birds and an ocean of junk. A recent paper shows the pervasiveness of plastic in even the smallest ocean animals.

It’s clear our oceans face many problems. But the good news is we’ve started to work out solutions.

Many problems

Life on our Planet is dependent upon the oceans (yet) in the space of a only a few decades the oceans have become the setting for an expanding list of problems.

So began the report of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans some 15 years ago, highlighting changes people have unleashed on this watery 70% of the planet.

Today we’ve moved from asking whether we can change the oceans, to if we can stop changing them.

Often our focus naturally falls on visible and immediately tangible changes, like the virtual collapse of the northwest Atlantic cod industry, the damage being done to the Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution, or the impact of lionfish on Caribbean reefs.

Such challenges may suggest seductively simple solutions: introduction of perfectly calculated quotas; tighter regulations on land-based activities; control of invasive species? Problem solved.

Unfortunately, some of the least visible changes are also the most threatening, difficult to communicate and hardest to solve. Ocean acidification is a good example, recently highlighted in The Conversation. Researchers have found that the oceans act as the world’s largest carbon sink, soaking up approximately one-third of the carbon emissions generated due to human activities over the past 200 years, altering ocean chemistry and causing acidity levels to rise to their highest levels in at least 800,000 years.

Increased acidity is causing a drop in the availability of carbonate ions, which are a crucial component of the skeletons of many marine organisms - from algae to coral reefs, from lobsters to scallops - all important to marine food chains.

With an estimated 2.6 billion people relying on the ocean for their primary source of protein, both the poor and the gourmands could feel the impacts.

We need to think beyond marine parks

Many of the world’s key practitioners for developing and managing marine protected areas just met in Marseilles. The discussions there focused, as usual, on the number, size, and location of protected areas, as well as how rapidly they can be created.

But it is just this sort of simplistic thinking that led to the creation of the large “no-take” protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory in 2010. Hurriedly declared in the heat of an election, this area lacked an effective understanding of the socio-cultural context of the region. And while ensuring monitoring and prevention of fishing in the short term, there is no sustainable plan into the future.

All in all, it was like applying a 1960s paradigm in the 21st century.

We need to have protected areas in national waters (and on the high seas), but not as we currently know them. They need to be designed to respond to the three-dimensional nature of the oceans, and with sustainable management in mind. Management needs of the ocean floor might be different from those of the mid-water column, and different again from those of surface waters. This means managing a range of ecosystems in all their complexity.

Problems with complex adaptive systems, like oceans, require complex solutions. The NEOPS research program at the University of Tokyo is attempting just that.

First it has to define ocean provinces based on assessment of material cycles and ecosystem functions.

Second, it will evaluate the bundle of ecosystem functions, and ultimately services, that are provided from these provinces.

A crucial third step bridges the science-policy divide by proposing governance mechanisms to sustainably manage these dynamic systems. Without such integrated research, understanding of complex processes will remain piecemeal, and largely removed from global policy and decision-making.

Ocean governance and management is a complex issue, especially on the high seas beyond the reach of national territories. Recently the UN General Assembly, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, have confirmed support for a conservation strategy for the high seas.

While identifying important areas is fine, the question is how should they be managed? Since 1998, the convention has been elaborating the Ecosystem Approach which has 12 principles. These principles work on land and sea to help manage biodiversity and deliver ecosystem services. This approach provides an excellent basis for good management practises in the oceans, from surface to abyss.

Embarking on the three tracks of good management design for the oceans, set in an effective governance framework, and backed up by innovative and broadly-focused research (such as NEOPS) can deliver healthier oceans into the future, even in the face of the sustained onslaught we have unleashed on this vital ecosystem.

Oh, and by the way – that lionfish invasion in the Caribbean? Turns out one way to deal with the problem is to eat them

Join the conversation

36 Comments sorted by

  1. Mark McGuire

    climate consensus rebel

    Broken Oceans? The lack of objective research at the theCon, day after day, is amazing. Quote: "Often our focus naturally falls on visible and immediately tangible changes, like the virtual collapse ..." . But, there is only a one way focus, an obsession even at the Con for bad news. Here is the good news: Best oyster season in 30 years on NSW south coast http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-28/nrn-oyster-good-season/5049626 , Booming Southeast pink returns fuel Alaska's biggest salmon harvest ever…

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    1. Rory Bremer

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Good point. It would be nice to see more positive stories on the Conversation, but there's definitely a lot of bad news out there to cover!

      The cod industry did collapse in the 1990s though. Check out some of the graphs here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse_of_the_Atlantic_northwest_cod_fishery) Recovering stocks are a result of the moratorium, but if effective quotas had been used, the collapse could have been avoided. The question is what stage we're at with other fish stocks?

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    2. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      I think it is important to look at this from a global perspective and while there are a few locsalised good luck stories out there one good oyster season does not indicate a healing of the oceans globally at all. We are down to the last 10% of the large bony fish on this planet. The last 10% of Billfish and Tuna. And the average size of individuals caught is way smaller than back in the 50s and 60s. Round into that the increase in catch effort to catch those remaining stocks, the rise in human populations…

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    3. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      The climate science denier troll McGuire complains about "The lack of objective research" here and then cherry picks a couple of good news stories about the oceans as his example of being objective.

      You could not make this stuff up if you tried.

      Here is a article on the oceans that McGuire liked. But his confirmation bias is such that he reads "the oceans are not broken" to mean "there is no problem".

      https://theconversation.com/is-the-ocean-broken-19453

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    4. Mark McGuire

      climate consensus rebel

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Greetings Alan. Indeed we have mis-managed our oceans, over-fishing and abusing it. The oyster example might be local, but, oysters have shells, the natural enemy of acidification, which is "happening now" and is "worse than we thought". Seems those oysters didn't read that IPCC/CSIRO peer-reviewed paper. As the cod hyperlink shows, with proper management of oceans and fish stocks, 'sustainability' is possible. My link to the newly discovered methane hydrate 'ice-shelf' off WA and the until now unknown abundance of sea life seems to show a resilient and healthy ocean. Technological advances, along with better understanding, have helped clean up our environment, not make it worse. The obsession with carbon(sic) and obscene amount of money thrown at it despite the contrary evidence, could be better spent harnessing & value adding on what we know works. And that is the true meaning of sustainability.

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    5. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      @McGuire

      Using Google to cherry-pick articles that fit your climate science denial is not objective research.

      Seems like these oysters have not read the same climate crank blogs as you.

      " For the past several years, the Pacific Northwest oyster industry has struggled with significant losses due to ocean acidification as oyster larvae encountered mortality rates sufficient to make production non-economically feasible."
      http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2013/jun/study-ocean-acidification-killing-oysters-inhibiting-shell-formation-0

      http://www.livescience.com/23903-oysters-future-imperiled-oceans-acidify.html

      Try looking at articles from the world's ocean research institutions. That is what we have science for.

      Like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for example.
      http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/ocean-acidification

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    6. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Greetings and salutations Mark - I think you've been fairly well shot down regarding the Oyster debate by the article linked to by Mark Hansen. But regardless, there are some aspects of your argument which do make sense. Fisheries do have a huge capacity to reproduce and thus recruit new stock, given two things. Recovery time and habitat. We are providing neither. The Orange Roughy fishery of New Zealand will not recover in less than a century and in that time their habitat, degraded by deep sea…

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    7. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Also Mark, reading the article you link to, the reason for the improved harvest is the mild winter and the diversification into Pacific Oysters. And for the last 30 years the catch has been in freefall - so this 'recovery' is a bit like the 'recovery' of Arctic Ice. It's like getting a 10% pay increase after your boss has cut your salary 66%. (In this case from 150000 bags in 1970 to 50000 bages by 2000). ( fig 6 p. 51 as below) But never let the details get in to the way of a headline.Andrew Bolt would be proud. This study gives a lot more depth...http://www.oysterinformationportal.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/White-2001-HealthyRiveComFinal_Report_Nov_2001.pdf

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    8. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Ummm thanks....humbling really...But how did you know Dr ANdrew Watkins was a former student of mine..? Just curious!

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    9. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/end-of-line-world-without-fish/ + http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s2896110.htm + http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/global-fish-crisis-article/ + http://overfishing.org/pages/Documentaries_about_overfish.php + In less than 10 years, cod stocks dropped from a yield of over 800,000 tonnes in 1968 to less than 300,000 tonnes in 1975. Despite warnings from scientists, the fishery continued intense fishing under the permission of the government (fisheries minister John Crosbie), and in 1992 the unthinkable happened – the cod were gone. http://urbantimes.co/magazine/2011/08/a-global-crisis-the-scary-truth-behind-overfishing/ + Empty Nets (Pacific) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTcXyCee-Gk + http://vimeo.com/2830157 + Interview With Director of Documentary "Priceless" 2010 http://youtu.be/1DALz1NOGf0

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    10. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Hi Alan, I developed a habit of doing my 'homework'. :) I was pretty naive in my early years when met a good man in my late 30's who in a way became my pseudo-father who filled in many gaps in my 'education' about life. One of the things he taught me over time was the value of 'doing my homework' about matters and in ways I had never before considered (to my prior regret). Been practicing it ever since using various skills I have acquired, when appropriate. Glad you are here, I believe you will be an asset to TC when time permits. May I suggest this page as a useful backgrounder you may benefit from in the future: https://theconversation.com/astroturfing-the-climate-wars-five-ways-to-spot-a-troll-19011 (forewarned is forearmed) Best Wishes.

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    11. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Really rather naughty you know only posting the part of the story that suited your argument. Record pink salmon catches (the least valuable species) in some fisheries combined with lows in sockeye forcing restrictions and closures in other fisheries. So it would seem, that yes, changes in ocean conditions care favouring some species over others.
      Then exactly the same obfuscation in the oyster story, good returns on pacific oysters (less valuable) with falling number on Sydney rock oysters (more valuable), obviously again human impact is altering the environment favouring one species over another.
      No different to saying let's pollute because it will lead to record number of cockroaches as human numbers fall. You really do stand out as a "climate consensus rebel" 'er' marketdroid.

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    12. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Still confused as to how you knew of the link between myself and past student Dr Andrew Watkins. I don't know whether to feel flattered or stalked! But cool with that either way Sean!

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    13. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      I'm really sorry about that, now u mention it i see it's a bit odd, but i'm harmless. it was only some info on a school website and i connected the dots. It was a good story , and i just spontaneously sent a comment. it's all good,. but really sorry for creeping u out like that it would have been disconcerting if it happened the other way round,i wasn't thinking. cheers.

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    14. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      Hey no worries...I figured that out for myself - no need to apologise. And it is a good story - Dr. Andrew Watkins was a student of mine and now works at the National Climate Centre teaching me about climate and meteorology! So the taught is now the teacher. Not a problem at all.

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  2. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    Is the complexity of oceanic environments so great that our attempts to manage it will be doomed to fiddling at the edges, or can we realistically hope to make a positive difference? That would be a pleasant change, after millennia using the oceans as our toilet and waste basket.

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    1. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      "Is the complexity of oceanic environments so great that our attempts to manage it will be doomed to fiddling at the edges, or can we realistically hope to make a positive difference?"

      Realistically ? Probably not, visit just about any area of Australia and there is little evidence of people reducing their CO2e emissions. One can only assume they don't really accept the causal relationship between their emissions and ocean acidification/AGW, so what realistic hope is there ? Much like those who continue to smoke, all the while purporting to know the dangers, actions speak much louder than words.

      Still, we're trying, having cut back significantly, couldn't face ourselves if we didn't.

      It wouldn't surprise me if Government does set a 25% target for reductions instead of 5% and then do nothing of significance about it. There are plenty of votes in rhetoric.

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  3. Sean Arundell

    Uncommon Common Sense

    Good summary of the main issues. re: "the UN Convention on Biological Diversity" & "While identifying important areas is fine, the question is how should they be managed?" And the next question is what are the major barriers to the best practice answers to those questions of management being implemented right now here and internationally? iow what exactly is the "UNDERLAYING Solution" to overcome such denial, procrastination, and inaction? Directly related to acting on sustainable solutions is this: Conflict of interest threatens Great Barrier Reef - ABC 7.30 Report Broadcast: 29/10/2013 "As the Great Barrier Reef battles to keep its World Heritage listing, evidence suggests its board hasn't followed advice to ban port developments and now there are questions being asked about the connections of some board members." http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3879733.htm

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  4. Sean Arundell

    Uncommon Common Sense

    I have a general question regarding articles like this listed under Environment & Energy on the TC website. Very keen to hear anyone's ideas and responses about it. The Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are well known for the method they use of door-knocking in their missionary work. They do not knock on the doors of existing Mormons & Witnesses, but the doors of the disbeliever. There is little value and nothing to be gained by "preaching to the converted". There's a saying that goes: 'a definition…

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    1. Alan Wiggs

      School Teacher

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      Interesting question Sean! I've had a lot of discussions, friendly and otherwise, with various deniers and skeptics (not too sure what the difference is and I hate labelling folks anyways)...But then again they label me a 'warmist' I guess! What changed more minds than any empirical datasets or rock solid information was....wait for it. David Attenborough! His last episode of The Frozen Planet changed many minds. I asked "why?" A mate replied,"Because we could see it for ourselves". I guess the words of one of the most respected figures in media and environment and the vision that goes with it is a powerful tool.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      Sean

      I don't think the intent of the Conversation or any of the articles is to change the mind of deniers (not 'sceptics'). It is impossible to reason someone out of a position that they haven't reasoned themselves into.

      The Conversation raised issues of interest for discussion, and is there to inform those who want to be informed. Unfortunately, like any website which allows comments, trolls are attracted to certain topics like moths to a flame.

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    3. James Whitmore

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      Hi Sean, well, from an editorial perspective we're not trying to 'convert' anyone. What we're really trying to do is raise interesting issues and perspectives, but always with evidence.

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    4. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      Using the analogy of saying "converted" and this "than wasting all the", wasn't the best way of expressing my actual intent of asking the question. Apologies for that, it wasn't a judgement nor supposition of purpose. More my own way of putting things. Will keep working on fine tuning that. TY :)

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    5. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      I much prefer to not slot people into boxes either Alan. Unfortunately, in my long experience online, the nature of this kind of text-based forum it's hard not to simplify the language for accuracy and brevity. To me (not sure about others) a 'skeptic' is someone who is not as yet convinced of the veracity of the Science for whatever reason/s that concern them. A 'denier' on the other hand is already convinced they know the 'truth' and believe wholeheartedly it's a crock. They don't participate on…

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    6. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      PS James, the way you put that I could read it as having the same purpose as the Rupert's 'The Sun' to provide it's readers with 'interesting things' to read, look at and think about. Except TC is one based on valid evidence and science based 'facts' vs the typical content in The Sun and other media. If this is your purpose of being, I can accept that. Good to know. Take care.

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    7. David Bindoff

      manager

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      I think the presumption of all those that (quite brilliantly and diligently) knock holes in deniers' logical fallacies, is that there are a substantial number of non-contributing readers who will be influenced by comment streams and misapprehensions need to be addressed to maintain a balanced communication. I have no idea how successful the efforts are but certainly as time goes by we are leaving the burdens more and more on the shoulders of the young - a tragedy on a scale never before seen.

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    8. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      Thanks Michelle, that's perfect. Love the internal references as well. I will read it all only browsed so far. Much appreciated - I found the following interesting fwiw: Chomsky How Climate Change Became a 'Liberal Hoax' [US mindset especially spreads like a virus] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJUA4cm0Rck + http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/files/California_Colorado_Ohio_Texas_Climate_Change_Report.pdf + Global Warming's Six Americas videos from http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/climate-change-in-the-american-mind-focus-on-california-colorado-ohio-and-t/ and other resources there. + I am leaning towards Video/Doco formats as being necessary to present info hold attention, connect, and shift povs on an individual basis. eg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM1x4RljmnE and a direct respomse to a key successful Denier Fraud/Myth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY4Yecsx_-s

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    9. Sean Arundell

      Uncommon Common Sense

      In reply to Sean Arundell

      R.E.M. - It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) This song is about Cross-Examination (or Policy) Debate. Not only is this song sung similarly to how CX Debaters talk (and that's to say, really fast), but there's a line in there, "A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies / Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline". Think about this interpretation in a debate setting and it'll make sense. Furthermore, three of the four R.E.M band members went to the same high…

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