As Above, As Below
I thought it was high time I wrote something about THE SEA and climate change what with the film ‘end of the line’, the DEFRA report on the state of the UK’s seas, the Marine census, the oil spill and NEF’s (The New Economics Foundation) fish debt calendar all providing scary and weighty evidence on the plight of the sea at the moment.
I won’t bore you with the cliches we are all used to when the sea is mentioned, but what can I say to convey to you the importance, the magnitude of power, the beauty and the intensity that is the sea??
I have lived by the sea all my life, watching and reading about the changes occurring in the seas all over the world creates 2 ways of looking at it:
- What lies beneath the surface that we are affecting
- And how below is affecting those above the surface
Have you ever seen the incredible BBC David Attenborough series called Life?
If you have you will know what I mean when I say there is much more to the sea than the sharks, dolphins and whales you see in films (making up less than 2% of the sea’s life), and the fish that you eat day to day.
There are translucent beauties that float around in the pitch black of the massive depths of ocean.
There are incredible weedy sea dragons that float with water flows; large fish literally with lanterns hanging off their faces to light the way; delicate and succulent looking coral with colours that reflect the palette of an artist with indescribable variety of textures and shapes and sizes.
Immense shoals of tiny fish who flit and fluctuate with their predators and the tides that shape their shoal.
Put together the under water is other worldly.
As you would expect from an ecosystem that is absolutely chockablock full of zillions of species that no one will ever discover, (In 2004 alone 13,000 new marine species were discovered, according to the Census of Marine Life.) it is finely tuned to balance the existence of all the species it supports, thus anything that disrupts that balance, that takes away a piece of that puzzle, has a profound effect on not just the immediate species reliant on it but hundreds more who also rely on that one.
More than just a goldfish bowl
Not only is the sea home to an incredible mixture of creatures it also plays a very important role in the regulation (maintaining the balance) of the planet we live on.
The first of the seas major planetary responsibilities lies in it’s salt, or salinity (concentration of salt in the water).
Salinity has a direct link to density, which in turn affects the currents that are found in all the different oceans. You may be aware that there are many different sets of currents all over the world, which put together regulate the heat of the planet by moving heat around and also being part of the water cycle which gives us rain (because sea carries heat in it), so changing salinity = changing currents = changing climate
According to the MET office in London the salinity in sub-tropical Atlantic seas is increasing, and this is likely to be caused by higher temperatures causing more evaporation than before so whats left is a higher concentration of salt water and more rain in the north because the winds carried the evaporated water that way.
Next up, temperature rise.
Although every skeptic in town will always focus on rising sea levels as the pinnacle of the seas plight (and thus because the difference is only slight climate change is not actually happening), the real killer is temperature rise.
One of the first effects of temperature rise relies on a chemical reaction you learnt in your first chemistry lesson-when water heats up, it expands, thus leading to rising sea levels and also the killing off the coral reefs thriving in lots of different environments around the world. Kiribati, a small Pacific Island, is surrounded by coral reefs; half of Australia’s tourism comes from glass bottomed boats and divers itching to the see the Great Barrier Reef, the problem is that even a slight but persistent rise in acidity can cause corals to ‘bleach’. A process where they flush out the very stuff that keeps them alive.
Water temperature rise along with ocean acidification (literally means the sea’s PH gets more acid and less neutral-neutral being the most hospitable to life) is the final knock on the head for many species; the complex nature of earth processes means that it can be described as many many circles, some of which are interconnected, and thus when one is affected another is triggered; so when the wheel of rising carbon dioxide emissions starts to turn, it immediately triggers the wheel of rising temperatures which affect the seas temperature, turning the wheel of sea level rise as well as triggering the wheel of ocean acidification because the carbon dioxide is an acidic gas and as it dissolves into the sea it acidifies it. Leo Murray tackled this in his wicked animation:Wake up Freak out
And lastly, i promise i’ll move on after this one, temperature has a direct link to the global supplies of plankton (tiny microscopic insects that most fish feed off) which means that as soon as the plankton move to better conditions, the fish stocks move with them, that’s no mean feat when you consider over half of the species that live on the sea, live off plankton. Did you know that there’s 6 times more plastic than plankton floating around in the middle of the Pacific??
Back at home in West Wales old ladies insist on their mackerel every summer, and the town has taken to having a Mackerel Fest just like the Spanish have Sardine festivals to thank the mackerel for the season and invite them back for the next year. By the time Dad was finishing with fishing the season for catching mackerel was starting to change, so word on the street is that the mackerel are arriving later and leaving earlier and the stocks of fish that do come, are less.
The DEFRA report mentioned earlier stated that in general plankton in UK seas are moving northwards because it’s colder, and thus the fish that eat them go with them.
So, moving plankton means moving fish stocks and with it unhappy old ladies and years of tradition and useless fishing knowledge that gets passed down through the generations. No plankton at all signals a loss of biodiversity, extreme temperature rise and loss of income and traditions all together, far worse than mere migrations.
Now we turn to the birds and the bees.
I am sure you know full well that fish stocks can be put down to how much fish sex goes on. Just like when countries go to war and conscript all the young men in the country, there is not exactly a baby boom right after the war has finished because there are no men left for all the women.
So what if the overall numbers of fish are reducing so there are less to be able to mate? And what if humans had a penchant for rare products which spell d.e.a.t.h to fish because they simply strip the females of their eggs for us to consume? (Caviar)
Or what if we are just so greedy that have to binge on fish whatever the consequences, i.e. even if that means while we’ll have loads in our freezer now, we won’t have any in 2 years time, and our children will never know that that fish even existed because it has been fished to extinction?
It is rather an understatement to say that humans have not exactly facilitated mush fish sex in the last few years. On this subject the film ‘The end of the line’ is essential viewing; it is an incredible expose of what is actually going on behind all these UN treaties and EU regulations to prevent overfishing: that is despite quotas, promises, treaties and regulations these forums are actually facilitating the rapid raping of ALL the seas on this planet by legalising fishing quotas that are far too high to ensure the stabilisation of fish stocks let alone their regeneration to the numbers they were before they were overfished.
As many as 90% of all the ocean’s large fish (that means fish like cod, salmon and tuna) have been fished out; about 70% of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity; and 52% of fish stocks are fully exploited.
Even scarier is UNEP’s findings that if we carry on as we are now, 100% of global fisheries stocks will collapse by 2050
As you will see in part 2, human reliance on fish is healthy and definitely necessary, just not at the current rate of consumption.
What does that even mean?
Put bluntly, if we are not stopped from over fishing or even just fishing stocks that are in decline, they will go extinct. Kapput. bye bye. no more.
This great calendar NEF put together shows how much fish a country eats versus how much is catches and works how quickly they go into ‘fish debt’ i.e how much they have to import.
The good news is that fish are forgiving creatures, it has also been shown that we could repopulate almost all of our seas if we had a mere 2 year ban on fishing for the worst affected places, and stringent quotas of how much can be fished in total shared out between each person fishing those waters. And just like any law, you have to check up on whether it’s being adhered to so there should be fish-police to enforce these measures every single day!
Coming soon is part 2 where I’ll cover the human side of the sea-what do we get out of it that could possibly make all this destruction worthwhile??