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Background (Marine Science, Polar Regions, Warm Seas).
Times Are Changing.
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For a summary of today’s global ocean problems this documentary sums it up well.
Breaking: Seal Shooting to End in Scotland
Following deliberations in the Scottish Parliament, the shooting of seals by salmon fisheries inc. aquaculture is to cease. This has been brought about by pressure under the U.S. Marine Mammal Act (MMPA 1972), covering the imports of fish and injury/death to mammals.
The full report can be found at Scottish Seas.
Update: January 2021:
The legislation around the shooting of seals in Scotland has changed yet the Marine Scotland website has been slow to address and inform, it does state that “has removed two licensable provisions in the Act – namely protecting the health and welfare of farmed fish” and preventing serious damage to fisheries or fish farms”.
“New provisions in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020”.
The penalty for shooting a seal has been increased to 12 months imprisonment and a £40,000 fine or, on indictment, an unlimited fine and 5 years imprisonment.
The Marine Scotland website has produced the following in respect to the effect of the US Imports under the Marine Mammal Protection Act with regard to the shooting of seals by UK fish farms.
“Part 6 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 seeks to balance seal conservation with other pressures and requirements, such as species conservation. On 1 February 2021 changes to Part 6 came into force which removed two reasons for which licences to kill or take seals could be granted. These are protecting the health and welfare of farmed fish and preventing serious damage to fisheries and fish farms:
Summary; Scottish Public Parliamentary Petitions
Current: Referred back to REC Committee
Closed-Containment for salmon farms in Scotland PE01715
Concern mounts from environmental and community groups
over apparent lack of engagement.
The Coastal Communities Network, Aquaculture sub-group officially supports petition 01715.
Link to current paperwork before the RECC
A fulmar in the Arctic Ocean, these birds follow ships for hundreds of miles.
Soaring on air currents produced by the ships they glide from port to starboard and back,
sometimes dipping to the seas surface to recover food in the ship's wake.
Never before have the Earth's resources been put under so much pressure. One of the main issues is that of the human population and aspirations to 'improve' and grow. Generally, the western world uses far greater resources per-capita. The problems that Earth faces are complex, not just a question of population but also a combination of population, life-style and industrial growth. It was once suggested that we would never over-fish global stocks, we still empty rubbish into the oceans as if they are bottomless; our actions have adverse effects. We don't fully understand marine ecosystem interactions; our concept of, "out of sight, out of mind" and profit over environmental issues, prevails.
Orca with a White Sided Dolphin, one of the 'residents' in the Johnson Strait of Canada's west coast. The residents are fish eaters; over-fishing and the growth of salmon farms are having an adverse effect.
The Box Theory
The 'Box Theory': Putting it simply, we live in a 'box' or rather a sphere; nothing can come in or go out. Now that the human population has exceeded seven billion, the earth is literally bulging at the seams. Commercial resources are under great pressure and the question of what to do with the waste has not been thoroughly thought through.
We are now starting to see the effect on our oceans, nowhere free from plastics, nowhere safe from exploitation or pollution. Unbridled growth has a cost, from climate change to biodiversity loss. Conditions are changing, species are threatened, anthropogenic activities are causing major unbalance to Earth systems.
Walrus, one of the Arctic's iconic mammals. These mammals have evolved to deal with the freezing waters, oddly enough they need ice in order to haul-out, warm and rest, especially the young. Arctic ice is becoming thinner and covering less sea area year on year, making existence for these animals harder.
Science has long been aware that Earth's oceans have a huge effect on the climate, but it has only been more recently that we have seen advances in marine science and the major implications that our actions have not only on the climate, but seawater acidity, marine ecosystems and the food-web.
The Rio 'Earth' Summit in 1992 raised issues about Climate Change and more than 150 countries signed up to its accords. At last, governments are starting to take it seriously, that said, the Trump era shows just how precarious environmental issues are. Will it be enough, will it be in time to actually make a difference or will governments slip back and renege on their commitments?
During the Earth Summit, Biodiversity Loss was also part of the agenda, also signed up to by the 150 or so countries however, biodiversity appears to have taken a back-seat on the world scene but in the marine environment, where we still don't fully understand the effects of food-web interactions, this lack of action may just come back to haunt us!
The Global problem with plastic has been highlighted for years but few have taken it seriously, until now it seems. BBC's Blue Planet II was 2017 best-watched program with more than 14 million people watching. The plastic problem was highlighted with graphic scenes. As a result, the public is better informed and many are concerned for the future. The UK government purportedly raised the bar by addressing the issue; a 'World Leader' they stated but giving a 25-year time scale is hardly taking the matter sincerely, we need to act and act now.
Ghost Fishing: This discarded fishing net was photographed high up in the Arctic Circle, north of 80 Degrees!
Close to the ice pack, this fishing net may have been covered, uncovered, and covered, again and again by annual ice cycles. It may have circled the Arctic, even the Atlantic by ocean gyres for many years.
Ghost fishing kills indiscriminately.
A Polar Bear or 'Ice Bear' as they are often called. Pictured of the east coast of Greenland.
Ice loss is causing a major problem for the Arctic. Some of the loss is due to climatic change, but the input of fresh water from melts is accelerating sea water change, reducing sea water density, reducing the deep water movement.
The Polar Regions have been highlighted in the media in recent years and for good reason, as it is these northern and southern extremes that are subject to an accelerated escalation in temperatures. An increase, just a small increase in temperature in the polar regions can and will have catastrophic affects to more than just our climate. Recent records have been broken in Siberia, approaching 40 degrees Centigrade and these extremes on a global scale have a profound effect.
Cold, salty, hence dense seawater sinks from the Arctic Ocean and effectively gives the ocean conveyor a ‘kick-start’. The ocean conveyor extends around the globe and has an influential effect on our climate; global climate! Seawater density is important as it creates layers of isolated waters which circumnavigate oceans. Ocean gyres form, the North Atlantic Gyre being the most important for western Europe. The Gulf Stream transports warming water from the Gulf of Mexico, it separates over the Mid Atlantic Ridge and one of the spurs, the North Atlantic Drift Current is the basis for the mild wet weather experienced in Scotland, especially on the west coast. Its importance can be seen in the vegetation along Scotland’s west coast, the best terrestrial indication of the influence of the North Atlantic Drift Current is probably seen in the temperate ‘oak’ rain forests. Canada and Alaska have glaciers at the same latitude and that’s just the ‘tip of the iceberg’….sorry.
It is not just one ocean current that influences Scotland, the Canary Current, Continental Shelf Current and Boreal Currents all have an influence, so much so that the convergence of these currents, combined with Ekman Spirals and continental shelves produce nutrient up-welling, these in turn enable phytoplankton blooms. This abundance of food, combined with the convergence of warm and cold waters result in a pronounced species diversity and an increase in biomass, the west coast of Scotland has a similar species abundance as that of warm coral reef regions.
Temperature change does not just effect ocean currents. Melting permafrost has a profound effect, too much fresh water input can be cataclysmic in the Arctic, not only does it alter the seawater density but ‘green-house’ gases such as carbon dioxide and the more damaging methane get absorbed into the water, this in turn alters the Hydrogen ion concentration making the seawater more acidic (The Carbon Cycle).
Sea ice in the Greenland Sea
Ocean acidification has a dissolving effect on the shells of shellfish, both aragonite and calcium carbonate, the basis for animal shells. Molluscs especially are composed of the more susceptible aragonite, these in turn are the main food source for walrus, in one jump the whole food web is adversely affected.
Combine these changes with the reduction in sea ice and the effect that has on the albedo effect (reflecting the suns energy), coastal erosion, acceleration of the Greenland ice sheet and rising sea-levels, the overall effect will be disastrous on ‘keystone' species such as polar bears.
Methane hydrates can be found in the Arctic seabed deposits, they form a massive energy reserve, however a small temperature change could cause them to erupt, causing huge amounts of additional methane into the atmosphere, this creates a ‘positive feedback loop’, this is nothing good as ‘positive’ refers to acceleration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some scientists consider that we are approaching a ‘tipping-point’, once reached there will be no turning back!
Fires are yet another side-effect of global warming, producing yet more climate changing gases into the atmosphere, and then aerosols add into the mix, this is a cataclysmic event in the waiting. All this and we have not even covered the anthropogenic increases in climate changing gases and emissions.
The virus pandemic has created a ‘lock-down’ event, where approximately one third of the global population has had what has been described as the ‘anthropause’, it has still not been enough to prevent current predicted temperature changes for the future, that said it has shown that capitalist society can change if it wants to, but will it and will it change in time?
Melting Ice Statue, Alaska
Amazing Colours in Ice Melt, Greenland
Calving Glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska
It is not just the polar regions that are under threat; coral reefs, atolls and low lying islands are in dire straits.
Warming seas bring their own problems from sea level rise from thermal expansion to more extreme climatic events, warmer air carries more water; larger temperature extremes are the root cause of tropical storms, which often are not limited to the tropics.
Warm seas are not exempt from the effects, a minor alteration in coral growing regions is sufficient to cause 'bleaching', long term bleaching is causing mass die-offs around the world. Ocean acidification causes corals to dissolve further disrupting this unique habitat.
A small alteration in temperature could result in numerous barriers to fish and other species that are temperature dependent. Spawning and rearing parts of the fish lifecycles are particularly vulnerable to temperature change, trout, salmon and cod are an example of fish that suffer. It may not be possible for the fish to migrate to different locations, the habitats may be unsuitable, could even have a busy port or harbour for example where the fish could live. As some fish require colder water, it has been suggested that the warming Arctic may be a solution but this is probably not suitable either as the warmer Arctic is also becoming more brackish from freshwater input. If temperature alone were not a big enough issue to overcome, the temperature changes are also likely to adversely affect the bottom of the food chain, phytoplankton; no food, no fish and for us, no fish, no food!
Changes in species diversity has unknown effects on trophic levels.
Whole islands, island communities and huge areas of densely populated land are at risk of becoming submerged.
Regions of oligotrophic waters rely on differing systems to support life, coral reefs are one such ecosystem which is under threat.
Coral bleaching, where the coral polyps expel the algae component causes major disruption and can cause the death of the entire reef.
Problems from fishing of the top predators causes untold and often unknown turmoil to food webs. Ocean acidification bleaches corals, one of the globes greatest habitats in nutrient deficient waters.
In fact many of the world's major cities lie close to sea level and are at threat from rising tides and storm surges.
Times are changing BUT are we going far enough, fast enough?
Climate change and biodiversity loss have been high up in the media recently, helped by BBC’s Blue Planet ll and the Schools Strike, then politicians get in on the act; “Change by 2050”, Change by 20?? And some environmentalists want change by 2025.
What’s possible? What’s needed? How can we do it?
Two consultations have been banded around recently, firstly, The proposals on a ‘Circular Economy’ and secondly, a call for evidence regarding ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’ (links below).
Before we start it is important to point out that Great Britain is no longer, ‘GREAT’, rather devolved and many powers have been redistributed to the four nations but in order to confuse matters, Westminster retains some as well. If that were not easy to follow, Brexit or not Brexit will also add to the mix of confusion. Whatever your views on the EU, some of our strongest and most wide-reaching marine protection originates from the EU! Natura 2000 and the Habitats Directive. We are going to use a few acronyms like, SPAs & SACs without explanation and no apologies as hopefully you will see why in the next paragraph.
Over recent years there have been numerous attempts to afford protection to various marine locations, these have taken various forms and names attributed to them. Here are just a few,- MPAs, HPMAs, SACs, SPAs, MNPs, Marine Reserves, Highly Protected Marine Reserves and that’s without going into legislation that protects various marine animals like cetaceans which have their own specialist designations….OR DO THEY?
With so much being ‘PROTECTED’ one could think well what’s the problem, why do we need MORE! Part of the problem here lies firmly with the politicians, many pressurised by the powerful fishing and aquaculture industries. “Yes we will establish MPAs but don’t worry they won’t stop any of your damaging, exploitive activities”. What followed were HPMAs and so on. This is where the term, “Paper-Parks” comes from, something Scotland is good at!
Lost with the acronyms? Well actually it doesn’t matter what you call them if they DO NOT AFFORD Protection then they are ALL just about USLESS! So, the names given, the acronyms that follow are almost meaningless. That is unless they include areas of NO-TAKE and in some places NO-PUT, these are known as the, - “No-Take-Zones” and when policed properly with penalties at actually deter then we start to make a difference.
This is not about being long haired hippies, just being pragmatic, the human population now well exceeds 7 Billion people and what we do has a massive effect on the planet, which in turn has an effect on us and our ability to survive. We don’t use the word, ‘survive’ lightly as if we do nothing then it will be our survival at stake. We hear some say what’s the point, what difference will be recycling ONE bottle make BUT if done properly this is NOT JUST ONE bottle, it could be 7 Billion bottles! Multiplied by the numbers used over a lifetime….that adds up. As for those that say, I want to keep my lifestyle, jetting off to all corners of the World, there are other means and even they could try being less of a burden as it is OUR children and everything else that will suffer. Two simple ways forward are circular economy and no-take-zones.
“A circular economy is one in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible. It can benefit the environment, by cutting waste and carbon emissions; the economy, by improving productivity and opening up new markets; and communities, by providing local employment opportunities”.
The now disbanded Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution produced a report called ‘Turning the Tide’, one of the most important sections for future sustainability was the need for ‘No-Take-Zones and with current pressures to assist in future fisheries etc. called for 30% of sea area to be “No-Take”.
Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are the next nearest thing and DEFRA ran a consultation which is now closed, we await the outcome but it is not rocket science to understand that protecting specific areas will be beneficial from the mass exploitation, much of it damaging, meeting the immediate needs of 7 + Billion people.
On top of that even today with our modern scientific equipment and understanding we don’t fully understand the intricacies of marine ecosystems and the adverse effects of our actions…that’s why we introduced the Precautionary Principle, and it was signed up to by around 150 countries at the Rio (Earth) Summit in 1992.
We don’t need MORE consultations; we NEED action before it is too late. What we do know about are, ‘tipping points’ and Positive and Negative Feedback loops, these exacerbate a situation, they are known to accelerate conditions some good, some not so much!
Circular Economy and No-Take-Zones are just two ways to help overcome the burden of our bulging population, it would be a start in the right direction but it needs to be in action not just parked in some political history book….the elephant in the room; nearly 8 Billion people and the methods to sustain them!
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NB. All photographic stills are copyright © of Mark-MC.