Shifting Baselines

The Rise of Slime

Overfishing, eutrophication, acidification, and climate change are leading to what Dr. Jeremy Jackson describes as the rise of slime in the oceans. For some recent evidence, check out this invasive algae in Crystal RIver or this recent story about increase in jellyfish on the Jersey shores. According to the research published last Friday in Science, there are now more than 400 dead zones worldwide, double the number reported by the United Nations just two years ago. Ugh.

A new article by Dr. Jeremy Jackson, Ecological extinction and evolution in a brave new ocean, was published early online last week by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and further details the degradation in the oceans (see the press release for the paper and/or Jeremy Jackson’s interview related to the paper, too). In a table in the paper, Jackson presents an entire scroll of shifting baselines–percent declines in biomass of different marine species many of us haven’t noticed. Scotian shelf Atlantic cod has declined 96% since 1852. Live coral cover in the Caribbean has declined 80-93% in the Caribbean since 1977. And on and on in a litany of eulogies for the world’s oceans.

I also really like Jackson’s assignment/presentation of the status of marine ecosystems given principal symptoms and drivers of degradation:

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All this has earned Jackson the particularly high honor of Enviro-Wacko of the week alert at FreeRepublic.com and even landed him a place in Armageddon Online. If only the state of the oceans wasn’t so serious…

Comments

  1. #1 doug l
    August 18, 2008

    I agree with you that this is a (of not the most) singularly difficult challenge the world faces ecologically. Of course there is huge pressure to address global warming by some very controversial means and no doubt the connection between dead zones and warmer oceans will be made to emphasise it, but to me it is even more pertinent for leadership to insure that what international clout for environmental protection and preservation that there is existing among the world’s governments and environmental agencies, that these efforts at problem-solving would be better focused on problems for which the answers are known to be immediately effective. Protect ocean stocks from overharvesting and stopping pollution from being introduced into the oceans. Sounds so easy.
    I’d sooner see a fully equipped and staffed with scientists and lawyers, internationally supported, expeditionary force (un-armed, of course) to protect the seas and go after those that are irresponsniby/illegally harvesting resources and those that are releasing pollutants into the international waters.

  2. #2 Bob
    August 18, 2008

    At a number of points in the article, Dr. Jackson suggests that other ocean scientists might find his conclusions a bit extreme. How are other people in the field reacting to his article? What scientific arguments do they have against his conclusions? If you have references to comments by other scientists, in articles or on blogs, please post the links.

  3. #3 bobn
    August 20, 2008

    Remember – when all the oceans die – SOYLENT GREEN WILL BE MADE OUT OF PEOPLE!!! meh!

  4. #4 CatMunro
    August 20, 2008

    This really depresses me and frustrates me. I’m constantly trying to reduce, reduce, reduce – I’ve given up all fish if I don’t know its not sustainably caught. I try to persuade and explain to others the conditions of the oceans, and the state of overfishing. Possibly some might say this is a bit extreme, but not contrary to other things I have read. What frustrates me is the constant question of ‘what can I do about this?’

    FYI Bob – Deep Sea News on Science Blogs also commented on this article (this post might make you cry, and picturing excesses) but no real analysis there.

  5. #5 Nathan
    August 21, 2008

    How does overfishing contribute to the problems of dead zones?

  6. #6 Bill Kanapaux
    August 22, 2008

    What I find more depressing than Jackon’s prognosis are reactions like the Enviro-Wacko post in the link above. Let’s just hope it represents a declining minority opinion.

    @ Nathan – Jackson identifies three major causes of ocean decline:
    1. Overfishing
    2. Pollution, especially nutrient runoff (dead zones)
    3. Increased green-house gases, which cause ocean waters to be warmer and more acidic

    If you want to read a bit more about Jackon’s thinking, you can take a look at my post here.

  7. #7 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    August 26, 2008

    Overfishing reduces the resilience of the ecosystem and, in some cases (like the oysters of Chesapeake Bay), the ability to clean itself. As for scientific responses to Jackson’s paper, I guess the most important thing is that it is published in PNAS with real review etc. Also, scientists quoted in various press articles have been positive. If you google “brave new ocean” you can get many hits and many of them relate to the paper (and many of them positive). But it’s of course too early to evaluate the scientific response in any real way…

  8. #8 ulfar
    February 12, 2011

    Whatever your cause, its a lost cause with 7 billion people on the planet.