The oceans have deteriorated because of human exploitation, ignorance and neglect. The assault on ocean heath is multifaceted and global. Increasingly, environmental action groups have had success in ameliorating the damage. Some more enlightened governments have passed laws to protect marine environments and developed enforcement infrastructures.
Life began in oceans and all life continues to depend on a healthy ocean environment. Oceans are important players in the carbon cycle and are major determinants of climate and weather patterns. 230,000 known species live in oceans. Two million marine species are estimated to exist. Oceans contain 97% of Earth's water covering 71% of Earth's surface. Climate change is raising ocean temperatures. Rising levels of carbon dioxide are acidifying the oceans with adverse changes in aquatic ecosystems, threatening, for example, fisheries an important source of human food.
Warming of ocean water is having a worldwide negative impact on ocean life. The world’s largest reef system, which stretches for over 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, has been severely affected by rising water temperatures. In May 2016, researchers found more than a third of corals in central and northern parts of the reef had been killed and 93 per cent of individual reefs had been affected by a condition known as coral bleaching. Warmer water causes corals to expel algae living in their tissue, turning completely white. Corals depend on a symbiotic relationship with algae-like single cell protozoa. When these are expelled they stop growing and often die. Coral reefs are an important habitat for many fish species who die when the coral dies.
Among the numerous problems that arise with ocean warming, the increased in toxic phytoplankton threatens human and animal health. In the USA, NOAA has undertaken a study of algae blooms in the ocean. Linking warming to increasing phytoplankton toxicity. Domoic acid, produced by certain types of marine algae, can accumulate in shellfish, fish and other marine animals. Consuming enough of the toxin can be harmful or even fatal. Public health agencies and seafood managers monitor toxin levels and impose harvest closures where necessary to ensure that seafood remains safe to eat. NOAA is supporting research to help seafood industry managers stay ahead of harmful algae events that are increasing in frequency, intensity and scope.” Commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries along the US West Coast are a multi-million dollar industry," said NOAA harmful algal bloom program manager Marc Suddleson. "Improving our ability to accurately predict algal toxin levels in shellfish supports timely and targeted fishery closures or openings, essential to avoiding economic disruption and safeguarding public health." In 2015, domoic acid-related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.
Another cause of phytoplankton blooms in increased nitrogen flowing into oceans from the land. Nitrogen in ocean waters fuels the growth of two toxic phytoplankton species, Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima complex: P. cuspidata and P. fryxelliana that are harmful to marine life and human health. Auro and Cochland explained that nitrogen entering the ocean -- whether through natural processes or pollution -- boosts the growth and toxicity of a group of phytoplankton that can cause the human illness amnesic shellfish poisoning. Pseudo-nitzschia genus produce domoic acid. When these phytoplankton grow rapidly into massive blooms, high concentrations of domoic acid put human health at risk if it accumulates in shellfish. It can also cause death and illness among marine mammals and seabirds that eat small fish that feed on plankton.
As with all human and animals, survival requires protection of their habitats and food supply. A British Columbia lawyer group, Ecojustice, goes to court to protect natural environments, animals and humans. They advanced a case to protect killer Whales in 2012, to the Federal Court of Appeal who confirmed that the federal government is bound to legally protect all aspects of the critical habitat of British Columbia’s killer whales. –They stated: ”British Columbia’s resident killer whales are made up of two distinct populations that live in the province’s waters year-round. The southern resident killer whales are listed as “endangered,” with about 85 members remaining, while approximately 235 threatened northern residents survive. Both species are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, which means the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is required to create plans for the species’ recovery and protection. A core part of the planning process is the identification and protection of critical habitat, which is defined as the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the species. “
Marc Mangel provided a comprehensive review of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling and its failure to successfully regulate whaling that according to the commercial moratorium in 1986. Japanese Whale Research Programs obtained a Special Permit in the Antarctica.. Australia challenged Japan in the International Court of Justice. The Japanese research claim was spurious but the court found that they had no jurisdiction in the case. They stated:” resolving the preservationist/conservationist sustainable use dichotomy is neither a matter of science nor law.”
Change Human Behavior Protect Oceans
Lubchencoet al described strategies of ocean protection: ”Healthy ocean ecosystems are needed to sustain people and livelihoods and to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Using the ocean sustainably requires overcoming many formidable challenges: overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution. Despite gloomy forecasts, there is reason for hope. New tools, practices, and partnerships are beginning to transform local fisheries, biodiversity conservation, and marine spatial planning. Modifying social norms can create conditions that incentivize a company, country, or individual to fish sustainably, curb illegal fishing, or create large marine reserves as steps to enhance reputation or self-image. In each example, the feedbacks between individual actors and emergent system properties were altered, triggering a transition from a vicious to a virtuous cycle. We suggest that evaluating conservation tools by their ability to align incentives of actors with broader goals of sustainability is an underused approach that can provide a pathway toward scaling sustainability successes. In short, getting incentives right matters.”
Fisherman in local British Columbia waters have been closely regulated for many years. All fishing private or commercial is done under licenses that define fishing rights, catch limits and obligations. Declining fish stocks are now protected by no fishing zones, and marine reserves that protect the entire underwater environment. In some countries tourist opportunities motivate local populations to limit fishing and to protect natural assets such as coral reefs. Some form of policing is usually required.
Lubchenco et al stated: ”designed secure-access fisheries align individual economic and conservation incentives by providing fishers predictable access to a portion of the allocated harvest (either a share of the total allowable catch or an area in which to fish). This approach provides motivation for fishers to act as stewards of the resource and allows fished populations to increase. Some of the biggest impediments include controversies around the initial allocation of quota. In addition, if stocks are already significantly depleted, reductions in catch are necessary to rebuild stocks regardless of the management system. Moreover, warmer waters and other impacts of climate change may introduce new stresses on fished populations, fishing communities, and ecosystems.”