In mid-July China's Xinhua news service reported “green tide”. No, this is not some new environmental cleaning product, but in this case it is nearly 7,700 square miles of an algae bloom that has taken over the Yellow Sea. A species of marine plankton known as Enteromorpha prolifera, is the prolific life form upsetting the natural balance. It is found in waters all around the world however, it’s not a problem unless it expands into macro-algal blooms. The cause is still being questioned but in many cases blooms this massive require warm ocean temperatures and waters rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. Eutrophication, or an overabundance of these nutrients often comes from fertilizer and sewage runoff. When the algae die off, their decomposition creates a state of hypoxia where more oxygen is being consumed than is being produced to keep life forms alive – thus creating “dead-zones”. There are hypoxic zones all over the world. The Gulf of Mexico has one of the largest, although varying in size it can cover up to 6,000-7,000 square miles.
With the earth’s surface covered in about 71% water over 193 million square miles, we have been prone as a civilization to think of the ocean as invincible. However, human activities over the past two centuries are proving that viewpoint dead wrong. According to findings published this June in Nature Geoscience, the current CO2 emissions are 10 X higher than a severe global warming era of our planet known as the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), around 55.9 million years ago.
The CO2 that doesn’t remain in the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean creating acidification. This is happening at an unprecedented rate. By some estimates the ocean is now 30% more acidic than it was before the Industrial Revolution and the advent of fossil fuels. This is bad news for shell forming creatures like corals which will dissolve or won’t be able to form in the first place. Coral reefs are home to more species per unit area than any other marine environment.
Unlike protected lands around the planet, less than 1% of the ocean is protected in any way. There is hope, though according to Dr. Sylvia Earle, who passionately wants “to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas--Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” These areas provide carbon sinks and are critical to marine diversity and thus the very health of the oceans.
Earle just returned the last week in July from leading her Mission Blue Expedition to the Swan Islands and Mesoamerican reef, the Atlantic Ocean’s largest coral reef 90 miles off the coast of Honduras. Often referred to as the “Galapagos of the Caribbean,” this area is one of the Hope Spots she aims to have declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA).The area was sadly overfished but still rich with diversity, which provides hope. Dr. Earle called on the government and people of Honduras to make it a safe haven and “place of renewal”. Earle and her team have put out a call to action, to all of us to protect this hope spot – and the 19 others she has targeted in need of MPA status. You can donate to local conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding these precious ocean treasures. www.sylviaearlealliance.org
I was able to keep abreast of this exciting 7 day expedition in real time as she posted twitters, blogs and fabulous photos. If you missed the opportunity, Dr. Earle, will be a Keynote speaker for the upcoming AREDAY Summit and Ocean Elders Gala, where you can hear her own inspirational account of the expedition.
Dr. Sylvia Earle is a world-renowned oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence and 2009 TED Prize Winner, also known as “Her Deepness”.
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