We Have to Save our Dying Oceans

By Dr. Keith Martin, MD, The Hill Times - June 8, 2010

Our oceans are dying, and without life in our oceans, life on land will perish. The threats to our marine environment, our global life support system, come` from many sources, but all have one common cause: human activity.

Human generated global warming, pollution, and overfishing have collided to create a perfect storm that has produced devastating changes in our oceans. The rapid extinction of fish species, destroyed ecosystems and changing weather patterns are affecting all life on earth.

Global average surface temperatures have already increased by 0.8º C above pre-industrial levels (the upper sustainable limit of temperature change is deemed to be 2º C). This is producing a warmer ocean that is more acidic, and less able to remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. The fear is that this will stimulate feedback loops that generate ongoing and irreversible temperature increases. Warmer oceans have also produced marine dead zones, where no life exists. These areas are increasing in number and size.

Massive overfishing is devastating fish stocks. Of all of the commercially fished species, 30% have crashed, 40% are overexploited and a further 30 per cent are being fished at their maximum capacity.
Pollution from storm sewers, dumping, and agricultural practices are killing our oceans.
Like every country, Canada has stark choices to make and they must be made quickly. So what solutions could we employ to address these grave challenges?

1) Global Warming

This is a watershed year in the battle to arrest climate change. In August, the Third World Climate Change Conference will take place in Geneva, and in December, the world will meet again in Copenhagen to produce an international framework that goes beyond the Kyoto Accord.

In the end, the international community must put a price on carbon and set up an international trading mechanism for carbon credits. Doing so would help to put a stop to deforestation and the destruction of our carbon sinks. This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to decrease atmospheric CO2.

How this could work is as follows. Carbon sinks should be seen as a public utility. Currently, they have commercial value when trees are cut down and sold. However, they also have value as they remove CO2 and produce O2. A hectare of jungle removes approx 200 tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere. At $10/ton, a hectare of jungle is worth $2000 a year. This is real value and would create an incentive for developing countries not to cut down their jungles and forests. Indeed, this is our best chance to save the two lungs of our planet that are extremely threatened; Amazonia and the Congo Basin.

2) An Ocean’s Management Plan

Using the Ocean’s Act of 1996, Canada must enact a comprehensive ocean’s management plan. This will enable us to apply a holistic approach to manage the ocean’s multiple uses: resource extraction, shipping, conservation, fishing etc. This is the same approach used for managing land. Currently our oceans are a free for all. This structure will provide certainty for all user groups.

Part of the plan must include the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). A commitment to do this was made in 2004, in Canada’s Ocean’s Action Plan. Sadly, only 0.5% of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone is set aside in protected areas, placing us 70th out of 228 nations.

3) Overfishing

Fish species must have time to recover. Reducing the number of fishing boats world-wide (there are 4,000,000) will be crucial. Total allowable catches must be reduced and must be based on sustainability. Enforcement capacity must be strengthened, including the establishment of zones in international waters that are crucial for species recovery where fishing is prohibited. Extremely destructive fishing practices like bottom dragging should be banned or used in a very limited way.

4) Forestry

Foresty codes in Canada must be reviewed and enforcement must occur to ensure that forestry practices are not destroying critical spawning habitats.

5) Endangered fish

Species must also be listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Despite provisions within the Act, Canada has not listed one single endangered or threatened fish species under SARA.

6) Local environmental assessments

Must be done to drive repairs to storm sewers, and better source control mechanisms should be put in place to prevent the dumping of toxic substances into our water systems.

7) Canada should lead

Canada should lead a worldwide phase-out of non-biodegradable plastics that kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and more than 2,000,000 seabirds a year.

Our oceans are the lifeblood of our planet. Canada has an opportunity to act, and be a leader in saving them. In saving our oceans, we will be saving not only ourselves, but all life on earth.

  • Display Date: 2011-03-30
  • Tags: Water Safety, Oceans, Keith Martin, conservation, environmental security
We Have to Save our Dying Oceans