Expert backs international call for action to safeguard our oceans

A world-leading expert on ocean acidification has backed international calls for immediate action to protect our seas against the threat of global environmental change.

A report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which cites several research papers authored by University of Plymouth researchers, has revealed the extent of the crisis facing humanity as the ocean and its services begin to show signs of collapse.

It also calls for urgent measures to be put in place, asking that between now and the end of 2020, the High Seas should be protected under international law.

Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, from the University of Plymouth, recently co-authored a report by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) which warned that failure to take action in the next 10 years could result in catastrophic changes in the functioning of the global ocean.

His previous research has shown that rising CO2 levels in the oceans could have consequences for millions, and that ocean acidification is having a major impact on marine life, while he is also part of a current project looking to control the spread of invasive lionfish throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking about the IPCC report, released to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit and General Assembly, he said:

“Human carbon dioxide emissions are speeding up the sixth mass extinction of life on this planet by causing sea level rises and coastal habitat loss. Surface seawater warming and acidification is killing tropical coral reefs and hypoxic events are causing the ecosystem collapse.
“Studies at carbon dioxide seeps worldwide show that organisms with shells or skeletons, such oysters and corals, are sensitive to ocean acidification and that degraded reefs provide less coastal protection and less habitat for commercially important fish and shellfish. This amplifies the risks to marine goods and services from climate change causing shifts to seaweed dominance, habitat degradation and a loss of biodiversity in coastal waters worldwide.”

This is the first time the IPCC has turned its attention to focus solely on the marine realm.

Scientists have said the resulting document – Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate – conveys what they have been saying for years, that the ocean is beginning to crumble under an onslaught of needless stressors from overfishing to pollution, compounded by climate breakdown.

However, they say that while the picture painted is undeniably bleak, there are measures that can be taken now to help bolster the resilience of the ocean and which governments need to finally and robustly take action on.

These include: ensuring that state parties to the legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity negotiate new targets to protect marine biodiversity; bringing an end to overfishing and pollution in all its forms to prevent further biodiversity, ecosystem and habitat loss; and tackling climate breakdown and holding warming at, or as close to, 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible in order that the ecosystem services of the ocean are to survive.

University research featured in the IPCC report

Agostini, S. et al., 2018: Ocean acidificationdrives community shifts towards simplified non-calcified habitats in asubtropical−temperate transition zone. Scientific Reports, 8 (1), 11354,doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29251-7.

Baggini, C., Y. Issaris, M. Salomidi and J.Hall-Spencer, 2015: Herbivorediversity improves benthic community resilience to ocean acidification.Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 469, 98-104, doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2015.04.019.

Hall-Spencer, J. M. et al., 2008: Volcanic carbon dioxidevents show ecosystem effects of ocean acidification. Nature, 454, 96, doi: 10.1038/nature07051.

Lemasson, A. J., J. M. Hall-Spencer, V. Kuri and A.M. Knights, 2019: Changesin the biochemical and nutrient composition of seafood due to oceanacidification and warming. Marine Environmental Research, 143, 82-92, doi: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2018.11.006.

Masselink, G. and R. Gehrels, 2015: Introduction to coastal environments and global change. Coastal Environmentsand Global Change, 1-27. doi: 10.1002/9781119117261.

Rodolfo-Metalpa,R. et al., 2015: Calcificationis not the Achilles’ heel of cold-water corals in an acidifying ocean.Global Change Biology, 21 (6), 2238-2248, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12867.

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