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  October 7, 2013

New Report: World's Oceans and Marine Life Face Unprecedented Peril Pt.1

Alex Rogers: Without swift action to tackle climate change, pollution and other threats, marine species could face mass extinction
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Alex Rogers is a Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford and Fellow of Somerville College. He is a marine biologist specialising on the ecology of deep-sea ecosystems including seamounts, deep-sea hydrothermal vents and deep-sea coral reefs and gardens. Alex has led several deep-sea expeditions in recent years and has seen first-hand human impacts in the high seas, including damage from fishing, lost fishing gear and trash on the seabed, even in the most remote parts of the ocean. Alex has worked on policy related to the management of human exploitation of the deep oceans, especially deep-sea fishing but also, more recently future efforts at mining. He is the Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a not-for-profit organisation that examines human pressures on the oceans using a holistic approach and the possible solutions to them.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

A new report by a team of international scientists has found the world's oceans and marine life are facing an unprecedented threat, the most extreme in the last 300 million years. By the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, the report is titled The State of the Oceans 2013: Perils, Prognoses and Proposals.

Now joining us is one of the report's authors, Alex Rogers. He is a deep-sea ecologist working at the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

Thank you so much for joining us, Professor Rogers.


NOOR: So can you just briefly outline how you determined these findings, how you came to the conclusion that the world's ocean and marine life are facing this unprecedented threat?

ROGERS: Well, we held two meetings in Oxford, one in 2011, one in 2012, which brought together a body of marine scientists with different areas of expertise, and reviewed information on the major threats to the oceans as we saw them. These are climate change, overfishing, and pollution.

From these meetings, we then went away and basically put that information together in a series of scientific papers, which have subsequently been published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, which is a peer-reviewed journal. And that's the report that has just come out.

NOOR: And talk about what you found is causing these changes.

ROGERS: Well, everybody will be aware of problems like overfishing, which have been around for a while. But even with these types of threats, we have found that basically the problem of overfishing is still there and fish catches are in decline.

The more insidious problems are associated with climate change, and these in particular are those associated with warming of the oceans, what is called ocean acidification, and deoxygenation of the oceans.

NOOR: So, Professor Rogers, the UN just released its own report, which found within a 95 percent certainty that human beings are behind climate change. And that report was attacked by climate deniers. Talk about the response, especially the criticism to the finding in your report.

ROGERS: Well, the climate change findings of our report have also been attacked by what we call climate skeptics. One of the main lines of attack there has been that there's an admission that CO2 levels are rising in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, but that the source of that carbon dioxide is not human. One of the sources that's been cited is volcanic eruptions.

But I would point out that the background level of volcanic eruptions is more or less constant at the present time, whereas the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have actually been climbing, and they've been climbing since the Industrial Revolution. And we've particularly seen the effects of that in the last 30 or 40 years.

NOOR: Talk about the possibility or the specter of mass extinction in the world's oceans.

ROGERS: Well, yes, that is another area that we discuss, and really it's quite a controversial area. But we would point out that in 1979, for example, the oceans' coral reefs crossed what we would view as a significant tipping point. And this is when we begin to see one of the effects of global warming, which is called mass coral bleaching. This is a phenomenon where because of warm temperatures, corals bleach a white color, because they're actually losing algae which live in their tissues, and this kills the corals en masse. And we've seen an increasing frequency of the occurrence of mass coral bleaching since that time.

We've seen many other symptoms of climate change in marine ecosystems, changes in the distribution of marine organisms almost globally. We've seen ocean pH decrease by 0.1 units. This may sound like a tiny amount, but it represents a change in the concentration of hydrogen ions, which basically cause acidity, by 30 percent to the oceans. This is biologically and chemically highly significant, because it affects the availability of something called calcium carbonate, which many organisms use to build their skeletons or their cells in the oceans.

NOOR: And you also discuss some ways that individuals contribute to these problems, including things like body scrubs that are dumped into the ocean that have an impact on marine life.

ROGERS: Yeah, that's right. One of the things we discuss are the effects of pollution. And in many ways people often think of this as an old problem. You think back to the 1970s, 1960s, there were major oil spills and oil disasters. But actually, there are significant new sources of pollution in the ocean. And one of those is plastics. And it might surprise your listeners to know that some body scrubs which are used to scarify the body actually contain plastic particles, and, of course, they go through the drain in your shower and eventually they end up in the oceans. And we have very little understanding of the impact of these small plastic particles and other plastic particles and microfibers of other origins on marine life.

NOOR: Professor Rogers, this is going to wrap up part one of our discussion. We're going to talk about your proposals to address these problems in part two.

ROGERS: Thanks very much.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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