Trou­bled waters

The Borneo Post - - NATURE - Alan Rogers By colum­[email protected]­bor­neo­

OUR planet con­sists of three spheres – the litho­sphere, the hy­dro­sphere and the at­mos­phere, all of which in­ter­act and play a vi­tal part in our daily lives.

Novem­ber 2018 saw the re­lease of two ma­jor re­ports, one pro­duced by the WWF ti­tle “Liv­ing Planet Re­port 2018” and the other was a pa­per, pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal “Na­ture,” con­cern­ing the warm­ing of our oceans.

Both pub­li­ca­tions re­vealed stag­ger­ing facts and fig­ures un­der­lin­ing our race against time to pro­vide a more sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment for both our­selves and wildlife. The Liv­ing Planet Re­port Track­ing 16,704 pop­u­la­tions of 4,005 ver­te­brate species, it was found that the global pop­u­la­tions of mam­mals, birds, fish, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians have de­clined, on av­er­age, by 60 per cent be­tween 1970 and 2014.

This was due to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors — habi­tat loss, land degra­da­tion, the il­le­gal trade on wildlife, pol­lu­tion and hunt­ing. All are di­rectly linked to hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties. Nat­u­ral sys­tems such as forests, oceans, and rivers re­main in de­cline and it’s only now that we are ap­pre­ci­at­ing them as es­sen­tial to our very sur­vival.

Al­ready, over the last 30 years, we have lost 50 per cent of our shal­low wa­ter corals, and since 1970, over 20 per cent of the Ama­zo­nian rain­for­est has dis­ap­peared for good!

If we take our world’s to­tal biomass into ac­count, wild an­i­mals to­day ac­count for only four per cent of an­i­mals, hu­mans (30 per cent) and live­stock (60 per cent) whereas 11,000 years ago at the end of the Pleis­tocene Ice Age, these fig­ures would have been re­versed.

With to­day’s to­tal world pop­u­la­tion of over seven bil­lion peo­ple, then per­haps these fig­ures are not sur­pris­ing.

Over 25 per cent of all marine life is sup­ported by shal­low wa­ter reef corals. Some sci­en­tists main­tain that co­ral mor­tal­ity, at the rate at which the mean world tem­per­a­ture is cur­rently ris­ing, will shortly amount to 70 to 90 per cent. This has been ex­ac­er­bated by back-to-back heat­waves and the warm­ing of the oceans, lead­ing to co­ral bleach­ing.

This re­al­is­tic and fac­tu­ally hon­est re­port also fo­cuses on the value of na­ture to peo­ple’s lives in terms of their healthy, so­ci­ety and econ­omy and re­minds me of a re­mark­able book, I read at univer­sity, ti­tled “Habi­tat, Econ­omy and So­ci­ety,” first pub­lished in 1934, by Dr Daryll Forde of Univer­sity Col­lege, Lon­don.

It be­came the eth­nol­o­gist’s “bible” and is well worth a read to­day, 84 years later. It is a study of tribal life world­wide and fo­cusses on the ways in which mankind re­sponded to his or her en­vi­ron­ment.

To­day glob­ally, this WWF Re­port es­ti­mates that na­ture pro­vides ser­vices worth US$125 tril­lion per year while also en­sur­ing sup­ply of fresh air, clean wa­ter, food, en­ergy, and medicines. to name but a few ben­e­fits. Co-ex­is­tence of wildlife and man Much has been achieved in con­ser­va­tion and preser­va­tion work in many parts of our world with re­cent pop­u­la­tion in­creases in gi­ant pan­das, moun­tain go­ril­las, the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Mekong Delta dol­phins, tigers, griz­zly bears, man­a­tees, and var­i­ous types of ea­gle and other birds of prey.

This has only been pos­si­ble in those coun­tries where con­ser­va­tion and bio­di­ver­sity are pri­ori­tised. Such mod­els ex­ist glob­ally and it now lies in the laps of all gov­ern­ments, for we are push­ing our only planet’s nat­u­ral sys­tems that sup­port life on Earth to the very edge.

Bio­di­ver­sity loss can be averted, for where there is a will, there is a way. New re­search on ocean warm­ing Star­tling and wor­ry­ing rev­e­la­tions ap­pear in a joint pa­per, writ­ten by oceano­graphic sci­en­tists from the US, China, France and Ger­many, re­gard­ing the mas­sive ac­cu­mu­la­tion of heat in our oceans, thereby sug­gest­ing an even faster rate of global warm­ing!

It is now a sci­en­tif­i­cally proven fact that over the last 25 years, our oceans have re­tained 60 per cent more heat each year than found in pre­vi­ous re­search.

Be­fore 2007, var­i­ous dif­fer­ent meth­ods were used to record oceanic tem­per­a­tures at oceanic depths, It was in 2007 that re­li­able record­ing de­vices, called “Argo floats.” were sited in our oceans world­wide.

From the in­for­ma­tion recorded and trans­mit­ted from these de­vices, it is now bla­tantly clear that our oceans have warmed at a rate of 6.5 Centi­grade ev­ery decade since 1991 and will con­tinue to do so as car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from our in­dus­trial world rise.

2017 saw the world’s record for these emis­sions.

As the oceans warm up, so their ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb oxy­gen and car­bon diox­ide de­creases, thus mak­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to keep global warm­ing within “safe” lim­its in the 21st Cen­tury.

Rapidly warm­ing oceans mean that sea lev­els will rise much faster as the waters ex­pand. More heat will be trans­ported by ocean cur­rents around the world, thus, in trop­i­cal ar­eas, lead­ing to even more co­ral reef de­struc­tion and in po­lar lat­i­tudes, to an even faster melt­ing of Green­land’s and Antarc­tica’s ice caps and glaciers.

Putting aside the im­pli­ca­tions of these long- term im­pli­ca­tions of warmer oceans, small short term changes in ocean tem­per­a­tures can af­fect the an­nual weather pat­terns wher­ever we live on the globe.

US me­te­o­rol­o­gists main­tain that warmer seas off the east­ern se­aboard states in the US, swept by the warm Gulf Stream ocean cur­rents, have con­trib­uted to more in­tense win­ter storms.

We must re­mem­ber that hur­ri­canes, cy­clones and ty­phoons are mostly born over the oceans where heat is trans­ferred to the at­mos­phere. In short, our daily weather af­fect­ing our lives is di­rectly re­lated to what is go­ing on at the in­ter­face of the hy­dro­sphere and at­mos­phere.

Mas­sive chal­lenges face us if we are, as na­tions, to se­verely re­duce our car­bon emis­sions to slow down the rate of mean global warm­ing and es­pe­cially in our oceans. Antarc­tic anx­i­eties In late Oc­to­ber and early Novem­ber this year, 22 coun­tries as­sem­bled in Ho­bart, Tas­ma­nia, Aus­tralia, for a meet­ing of the Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Marine Liv­ing Re­sources (CCAMLR) with the main item on its agenda to de­clare the Wed­dell Sea, in the north west of this vast con­ti­nent, as a vast mar­itime pro­tec­tion zone and re­serve.

This sea area, five times the size of Ger­many and cov­er­ing 1.8 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, has the clear­est waters in the world in which en­dan­gered species of whales, seals and pen­guins live, thriv­ing on krill and fish.

The pur­pose of the meet­ing was to seek unan­i­mous ap­proval from the del­e­gates to cre­ate this re­serve and to ban fish­ing there.

Sadly what was planned as a sci­en­tific meet­ing ap­pears to have evolved into a po­lit­i­cal con­tretemps with China, Rus­sia and Nor­way ob­ject­ing to the plan. Clearly, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests came into play, for each of these three coun­tries pos­sess large fish­ing fleets.

Nor­mally, the CCAMLR is quick to re­lease its lat­est re­port but as yet, there’s noth­ing to re­view! The ob­vi­ous need for the con­ser­va­tion of our wildlife re­sources for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of mankind and an­i­mals and, in this case, marine life seems to have been to­tally over­looked.

When will we ever learn?

— Reuters file photo

It is now a sci­en­tif­i­cally proven fact that over the last 25 years, our oceans have re­tained 60 per cent more heat each year than found in pre­vi­ous re­search.

— Ber­nama file photo

Over 25 per cent of all marine life is sup­ported by shal­low wa­ter reef corals.

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