Mass Extinction Threatens Marine Life, And Humans Are The Culprits [Study]

One day after Pope Francis assailed man for causing global warming, a team of scientists released the results of a groundbreaking study, and the results are ominous. Basically, marine life are on the brink of mass extinction, and human beings are largely to blame for their demise. The good news is that experts believe there is still time to avert a disaster to ocean life if man does more to prevent climate change, according to the New York Times.

A group of researchers pulled together various streams of data from hundreds of sources in order to draw conclusions that marine lifeforms are in peril. Additionally, the threat extends to large bodies of water that humans depend on for sustenance, industry and agriculture. Douglas J. McCauley, a co-author of the study, who is also an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, weighed in on the science of extinction for endangered species.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

McCauley was quick to hint at some degree of optimism. He and other researches believe the world’s oceans, unlike continental terrains, are more resilient to forced change from increased warming due to greenhouse gases. To them, the mighty seas can recover over time, but uncertainty remains as to how long, and under what conditions, after mass annihilation of ocean life. Malin L. Pinsky, another study author, offered her take on the developments.

“We’re lucky in many ways. The impacts are accelerating, but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.”

McCauley, Pinsky, and others harnessed data that included fossil records, the impact from marine container shipping on maritime routes, overfishing, and mining of the seabeds for fossil fuels. For a long time, experts knew that each category presented its own levels of jeopardy, but when the data was aligned and compared side-by-side, it was apparent that unless significant change takes place, mass extinction of ocean creatures is the next logical result.

Study authors say there is clear and irrefutable evidence that man is causing damage to the animal habitats and ecosystems. But until now, much of the focus has been confined to land, and a lesser degree to coral reefs and the deep oceans. The former has declined by a staggering 40 percent globally, largely due in part to human-induced damage.

A number of aquatic animals are hardy and can adjust to the constantly changing pH of the ocean. Take the black sea bass, for example. This species of fish once roamed in waters off the Virginia coast. Due to changes in the makeup of the ocean, it moved north to New Jersey.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy. In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans,” Dr. Pinsky said.

Scientists also use the moa as an example of how an endangered species can be forced into extinction. The giant bird once thrived in New Zealand, but due to habitat encroachment by the newly-arriving Polynesians in the 1300s, the bird’s numbers were decimated 100 years later. Today, there’s already evidence that many species already threatened with extinction are on the verge of vanishing.

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The paradox is that lawmakers are pushing for less regulation at a time in which more order and restrictions are needed. Man is constantly tinkering with the environment to develop commercial projects to drive profits — oftentimes, at the expense of causing the Earth to warm, polar ice caps to melt, and biodiversity to decline.

Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, another co-author of the mass extinction study of ocean life, spoke candidly and offered a chilling reminder of what lies ahead if humans don’t take an active part in savings organisms.

“If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean. But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple decades [sic] more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”

The results of the landmark study on marine/aquatic life mass extinction are published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

[Image via: Nature via Awesome Ocean]