A Bailout for the Oceans - Oceana USA
Home / Blog / A Bailout for the Oceans

December 16, 2008

A Bailout for the Oceans

At the National Press Club in Washington, DC this morning, a group of top U.S. marine scientists (including several from Oceana) urged the incoming Obama administration and members of the U.S. Congress to implement a “bailout” for the oceans. “We’ve been borrowing against the future for far too long, and the oceans can’t lend us any more. We must act responsibly and live within our means,” said Mike Hirshfield, Oceana chief scientist and senior vice president for North America.”The good news is this bailout can be affordable if we act fast,” said Dr. Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We need to limit rather than expand human activities such as fishing,” added Jackson. Here’s what the scientists said, in a nutshell:Overfishing:The statistics for the long-term health of fisheries are grim. Global catches have been declining since the late 1980s. According to a recent World Bank study, an estimated $50 billion is lost globally each year – a sum equivalent to more than half the value of the global catch – due to poor fisheries governance and overexploitation. Subsidies provided to commercial fishing fleets, led by the governments of developed and developing nations alike, are driving these species into oblivion. “The economic pressures to keep on fishing have overwhelmed common sense,” said Dr. Jackson.Climate Change and Ocean Acidification: A new report estimates that the extinction risk for corals has increased dramatically over the last few decades and unless the effects of climate change and other stressors are not checked, remaining reefs could vanish. Major swaths of the world’s marine food webs will be unable to adapt fast enough to survive the rapid acidification of the ocean, caused by rising emissions of carbon dioxide.”Ocean acidification could eliminate tropical coral reefs and dramatically reduce shellfish populations worldwide within a few decades,” said Dr. Jeffrey Short, Pacific science director, Oceana. The Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. An area of sea ice about a quarter the size of the United States has been lost since the 1950s, with consequences for both Arctic Ocean ecosystems and our climate. Ocean Pollution:In addition to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and ocean acidification, human activities on land have a pervasive effect on the ocean. Over-enrichment with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus create dead zones and degrade ecosystems in other ways. “While various plans and goals are in place to reduce ocean pollution, concerted actions to implement them have fallen well short,” said Dr. Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Much as with climate change, time is running out because the longer the affected ecosystems remain in a degraded state, the harder it will be to recover them to a healthy condition.”RecommendationsThe panel urged incoing U.S. leaders to do the following:*Require responsible fishing, including an end to overfishing, a commitment to rebuilding depleted fish populations and an end to bycatch of protected and endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles. The U.S. also needs to protect ocean habitats from destructive fishing gear such as bottom trawls. *Clean up agricultural practices and require advanced pollution controls on sewage treatment plants. *Reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, with a target of a 25 to 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 to 95 percent reduction by the year 2050. We can achieve these ambitious goals with energy conservation and a speedy transition to a new energy economy. *Shifting to a new energy economy and capitalizing on wind and solar power rather than investing in offshore drilling will reduce the effects of climate change and create more green jobs.