Mankind may be facing a devastating mass extinction in the near future warn a group of science experts. Five mass extinctions that occurred during the past half billion years followed biological and chemical disruptions to the oceans—the same kind of disruptions the oceans are experiencing now.
The 27 world's leading ocean scientists—led by Oxford professor Alex Rogers who heads the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)—are both frightened and dismayed by the ominous evidence their study revealed.
"The results are shocking," Alex Rogers stressed. "We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime."
And those consequences are not only dire, they could spell the doom of human kind.
Ocean ecosystems collapsing
The terrible triad of disaster driving the oceans into extinction are dwindling oxygen content (known as hypoxia), acidification of the seas on a global scale, and a general warming according to the IPSO report.
Although many ecologists believe the spreading hypoxia and acidification are direct results of global pollution, the cause of rising sea temperatures is debatable. Some believe it is attributable to man-made global warming, others argue that it is a combination of cyclical climate change driven by the sun's interaction with the Earth's magnetosphere and an upsurge in underwater volcanic activity.
Whatever the cause, the ocean ecosystems are collapsing and reversing it may prove an impossible task beyond the capability of current technology.
As fish stocks shrink, coral reefs die, and oceanic dead zones mushroom, the consortium of scientists led by Rogers foresees terrible consequences for all life on the planet.
Rogers observed that "As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime and, worse, our children's and generations beyond that."
In fact, the death of the oceans will mean the death of the world as we know it and that ultimate collapse will not occur at some misty date in the future, but within the life times of many now alive, their children and grandchildren.
The genie in the bottle
A chain reaction has already been set into motion; its natural end is mass extinction of whole species. Driving the spiral into oblivion are both human and non-human events. Solar, volcanic and climate cycles cannot be countered. Whether the impact of human activity on the cycle is significant enough to slow or reverse the trend is a complete unknown.
Titanic forces have been set into motion, and as the old saying goes it's almost impossible to return the genie to the bottle.
Accounting for three-fifths of the surface of the planet, the world's oceans soak up water they are exposed to like a gargantuan sponge. When the delicate balance of the sponge has become drenched with too many life-killing poisons it cannot effectively cleanse and repair itself anymore.
Then the dying begins and a cycle that becomes irreversible. Eventually almost all life on Earth ceases to be and a relative handful of surviving species are left to rebuild a new and different world.
We are all in trouble
Sylvia Earle, the former chief scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, flatly states that "If the sea is in trouble, we are all in trouble."
Earle explained to the Independent that "The ocean is a living system that makes our lives possible. Even if you never see the ocean, your life depends on its existence. With every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, you are connected to the sea.
"First, only 5 per cent of the ocean has been seen, let alone mapped or explored. We know how to exploit the sea. Should we not first go see what is there?
"Second, it is critically important to protect large areas of the ocean that remain in good condition—and guard them as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Large marine-protected areas would provide an insurance policy—and data bank—against the large-scale changes now under way, and provide hope for a world that will continue to be hospitable for humankind.
"Third, take this report seriously. It should lift people from complacency to positive action—itself cause for hope."
Rogers opines that our generation may be the last able to deal with the encroaching mass extinction.
But whether our current technology is up to the Herculean task remains to be seen.