Throughout earth’s history there have been a number of mass extinctions in which the planet’s biota has completely changed. Due to various natural factors, such as rapid climate change or the impact of an asteroid, thousands of species disappeared and evolutionary forces allowed to ones to appear. There is ample data to suggest that we are in the midst of another mass extinction , this time due to the actions of a single species, namely our own.
The human population is now around seven billion people and the stress that alone places on natural habitats is enormous. Even though there are around one million square miles of ocean in conservation it is not enough to prevent the massive loss of species. The human impact on the ocean includes the effects of climate change, pollution such as oil spills, and overfishing. In a growing world hungry for food and energy, the strain on existing resources is reaching a critical level.
Mankind has always had the problem of focusing on and implementing short-term exploitation of resources instead of the long-term planning and understanding of the services provided by healthy ecosystems. Just consider how important some of these services are. Most of the world’s oxygen supply, for example, is produced by the microscopic phytoplankton in the ocean. These tiny algae are affected by water temperature and the presence of chemicals in the water column. Slight changes in these requirements could easily affect the populations of these significant species.
It is also dangerous to continue this addiction to fossil fuel consumption. In spite of all the evidence on the negative environmental effects of fossil fuel consumption, there are still efforts to drill more oil or mine more coal. And opposition to harmless, even beneficial, alternatives such as offshore wind farms, remains a problem. Even traditional economic pressures such as high gasoline e prices fail to reduce the demand for more oil.
The truth is we do not know what will happen if suddenly thousands of species suddenly became extinct. The effects of a single extinct species could be catastrophic setting off a wave of unpredictable chain reactions. The thought of thousands of species becoming extinct is frightening.
How can this dangerous trend be reversed? Only with a greater commitment to conservation will it be possible to prevent a disaster. This will entail an open discussion on topics that have previously been too controversial for many to address. Items like population control, a reduction in consumption patterns, and changes in lifestyles must be discussed. We have to be made aware of how important sustainable ecosystems are, particularly the ocean, and how risky it is to our planet to destabilize them.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.