Trou­bled wa­ters

Annapolis Valley Register - - OPINION -

So, World Oceans Day is over, the beach garbage cleanups done for the year, the tours of ocean fa­cil­i­ties are over, and we can move on to the next cause. We can put the world’s oceans aside un­til next year. Ex­cept we can’t.

The oceans and their fish­eries are a ma­jor world food source.

Oceans are the Earth’s ther­mo­stat and cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem. They mod­er­ate our tem­per­a­tures, af­fect our weather, trans­port our goods. And they are in trou­ble.

There’s an area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the “dead zone,” where ur­ban and agri­cul­tural runoff have re­moved so much oxy­gen from the ocean that fish and marine life sim­ply die.

This year, the dead zone is ex­pected to be 5,460 square miles — that’s 14,141 square kilo­me­tres, or two and a half times the size of Prince Ed­ward Island. And that’s sup­pos­edly good news, be­cause it’s smaller this year than when huge hur­ri­cane rain­falls pushed oxy­gen-de­plet­ing runoff even fur­ther into the Gulf.

Plas­tics, es­pe­cially tiny mi­croplas­tic frag­ments, are found in ev­ery part of the oceans, killing sea life and de­liv­er­ing that same hid­den plas­tic right back to our plates in some seafood. Huge rafts of plas­tic waste choke the ocean sur­face, and we can’t even seem to get in­volved enough to ban sin­gle-use plas­tic bags or un­nec­es­sary items like plas­tic straws. (At least in P.E.I., a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill just passed third read­ing, bring­ing in new fees for plas­tic bags and a ban in 2020. Other At­lantic prov­inces like to “se­ri­ously con­sider” bans, with­out do­ing much else.)

And then there’s the change in ocean tem­per­a­tures, which af­fects ev­ery­thing from the strength of hur­ri­canes to the weather we can ex­pect to the fish we catch.

Some species are mov­ing to stay within their pre­ferred ocean tem­per­a­ture ranges; some sim­ply can’t move fast enough, and their pop­u­la­tions are plum­met­ing. The en­dan­gered right whale is caus­ing up­heaval in Gulf of St. Lawrence crab fish­eries as fed­eral au­thor­i­ties try to protect the rare whales. Right whales are new to the gulf, mov­ing as their food sources have moved.

A re­cent study in the sci­en­tific jour­nal

PLOS One points out that a warm­ing ocean is likely to force 450 fish and shell­fish species to move north­wards, with mo­bile cold-wa­ter species mov­ing the fur­thest. The Alaska King crab is likely to move as much as 900 miles fur­ther north. (If a sim­i­lar thing hap­pens off Canada’s East Coast, at least the right whales won’t be in con­flict with crab fishermen any­more, be­cause the crab will have de­camped for colder wa­ter.)

Yes, World Oceans Day is gone for an­other year. But ocean prob­lems de­serve far more than a day’s thought and ac­tion.

Sig­nif­i­cant parts of our oceans are al­ready gone — and time is run­ning out for the rest.

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