source: USFWS (Flickr CC)

“Shocking”, “unprecedented”, “catastrophic” – some of the words being used to describe the state of the Earth’s oceans and where things are headed, in light of a new study by Ipso, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

Factors such as overfishing, massive agricultural and chemical pollution, warming temperatures and acidification due climate change are combining to cause mass extinction in the Earth’s oceans. Marine scientists believe these factors are working in tandem to create conditions seen in previous mass extinctions.

From the Guardian:

In recent years, human effects on the oceans have increased significantly. Overfishing has cut some fish populations by more than 90%. Pollutants, including flame-retardant chemicals and detergents are absorbed into particles of plastic waste in the sea, which are then ingested by marine creatures. Millions of fish, birds and other forms of life are choked or suffer internal ruptures from ingesting plastic waste.

Dr Alex Rogers, professor of conservation biology at Oxford University, is quoted in the Independent:

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, in the lifetime of our children and generations beyond that.

Besides sharp declines in fish populations, the extinction of valuable regional ecosystems such as mangrove swamps and coral reefs may occur within a generation, scientists fear.

Research for the report suggests that the state of our oceans is far worse than previously thought.

From a BBC News report:

The rate of change is vastly exceeding what we were expecting even a couple of years ago. So if you look at almost everything, whether it’s fisheries in temperate zones or coral reefs or Arctic sea ice, all of this is undergoing changes, but at a much faster rate than we had thought.

–Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, coral specialist, University of Queensland, Australia

Call it hysteria, call it alarmism or dismiss it as a doomsday scenario, but these are the world’s top marine scientists, not chickens shouting “the sky is falling”. These experts are recommending that we 1) stop exploitative fishing 2) reduce plastic and agricultural pollutants as well as human waste entering the oceans and 3) drastically curb our greenhouse gas emissions.

And make no mistake: this is about humans. The Earth has gone through 5 great distinctions already and life recovered, but this time we have caused it and we are the ones who are going to ultimately pay the price – along with countless other innocent life forms.