What follows is yet another piece of a huge puzzle, another clue about our possible future.
An international team of scientists and environmental research experts recently announced a dramatic turn in the debate over climate change — our oceans’ dead zones are expanding, rapidly.
Dead zones are areas of coastal and open ocean in which oxygen levels have dropped below what is necessary to sustain life. They are environmentally different from the large areas of floating trash in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but they share the same base cause — human activities.
The floating, transitory trash islands are a disaster for sea life, many species of which ingest the plastic particles, or become entangled in debris, both of which usually prove fatal to the hapless creature.
The ocean dead zones are equally disastrous, but far more dangerous. What makes an area of the ocean dead is a deprivation of oxygen, a condition in which most sea creatures are unable to survive.
The obvious, eventual outcome is mass extinction events, which will directly affect the lives of more than three-quarters of a billion people who depend on the sea for food and jobs.
Here is the extent of the problem, according to a recent article in Science magazine: In 1950, the science community had identified just under 50 dead zones along coastal regions and in the open ocean. As of last year, the number of dead zones had risen to 500, and perhaps more.
The immediate impacts are being felt along heavily populated coastal areas — including here in the United States — where sewage, animal waste and fertilizer runoff contribute to algae blooms in shallow water, and the blooms accelerate oxygen loss, thus making the region uninhabitable by marine life.
The situation is especially acute in the Gulf of Mexico, which has become the natural depository for waste products from around the Gulf Coast and down through the Mississippi River’s path. The gulf’s largest dead zone is about the size of New Jersey, or nearly 9,000 square miles, and it generally is growing larger every year.
If the Trump administration follows through on its pledge to increase offshore oil drilling, the gulf is likely in for even more ecological damage.
According to the Science article, there is no guessing involved in the cause of accelerating deoxygenation of our oceans — it is us, consuming and using, while throwing away the leftovers.
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Denise Breitburg led the analysis team for the Science report, and said: “Under the current trajectory (major extinction events are) where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path.”
Breitburg makes it clear that halting climate change requires a global effort, which is disturbing, given that the Trump administration has isolated the United States as the only nation not participating in the Paris climate agreements. Everyone else seems to understand the importance of protecting the planet, except our president.
Central Coast residents are familiar with the problem, because just about every time we have enough rainfall to create significant runoff, the stuff that gets washed down to our beaches forces their closure. And if the water’s not safe for humans, it’s not doing the marine life much good either.
You don’t have to accept the premise of climate change to understand that our planet is undergoing significant changes, and many of those changes will eventually wipe out a variety of animal and plant species.
We can do better, really.