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Scientists: Marine life at high-risk of extinction

By Andrew Ardizzi     Jun 21, 2011 in Environment
An expert panel of scientists discovered the world's oceans are at a high risk of entering a phase of extinction unprecedented in human history.
The panel, which included coral reef ecologists, toxicologists and fisheries scientists, met to discuss a recent report which states over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together to pose serious risks to marine life at a meeting convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).
"The findings are shocking," Alex Rogers, IPSO's scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University said in a BBC News report. "As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized."
Rogers said experts from the varying disciplines of study gathered to discuss the trends they're seeing and what they found was a picture indicating right across the board that changes in marine life are happening much faster and in ways they hadn't expected to see for hundreds of years.
The report, which will be released later this week, states mass extinction will be inevitable if current polluting trends contributing to the acidification of seas and the consequent dangers carbon dioxide emissions collectively pose to marine life isn't reversed.
CBS News said the group's report focuses on four studies which identify concerns relating to ocean acidification and oxygen content, the disappearance of coral reefs, pollution and overfishing.
"This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that," Rogers said in a Guardian report.
The Guardian reported the flow of nutrients and fertilizers into the oceans are creating huge dead zones where oxygen levels are either absent - Anoxia- or exist at low levels - Hypoxia- which creates an environment fish and other marine life can't survive in.
Combined, anoxia, hypoxia, global warming and acidification are factors historically present in every mass extinction event in the oceans throughout earth's history. It's believed 55 million years ago about half of marine species of deep-sea creatures became extinct when ecological changes created similar conditions, the Guardian report states.
However, the impacts humans have had on marine life have increased exponentially, hastening the crisis facing the world's oceans.
It is believed fish populations have been cut by more than 90 per cent resulting from overfishing, while pollutants such as flame-retardant chemicals and detergents are absorbed into plastics which are ingested by marine life and in turn chokes them or causes internal ruptures, the Guardian reports.
The IPSO report states we have less than a generation to act, in order to prevent the "momentum" these ecological concerns have.
"Very soon the feedback mechanisms that are in those processes may take the whole situation out of our hands... The time to act is now. That's the time we can actually deal with the causes and not just the consequences," Mark Meekan, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told Al Jazeera.
Scientists believe the Earth has gone through five "mass extinction events" which have been associated with asteroid impacts or ecological changes such as hypoxia, disturbances to the carbon cycle and sea water acidification; combined with humankind's carbon footprint it's felt a sixth event is forthcoming.
"What we're seeing at the moment is unprecedented in the fossil record - the environmental changes are much more rapid," Rogers told BBC News. ""We've still got most of the world's biodiversity, but the actual rate of extinction is much higher [than in past events] - and what we face is certainly a globally significant extinction event."
The report's conclusions will be presented at the United Nations' headquarters in New York this week, where IPSO will recommend ending exploitative fishing in high seas where there is little regulation, reducing the input of pollutants into oceans and making sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
More about Marine life, mass extinction, Greenhouse gas emissions, Ocean, Extinction