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Guest author, Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson is the Communications Officer at ReefDoctor a marine conservation organization based in Madagascar.  Follow him @OceanKarma 

The Ocean is the governing life support system on the planet and is key to our quality of life on earth. Unfortunately, there is a profound, widespread ignorance about the Ocean and its essential importance to everyone, everywhere, all of the time. Even what is known to scientists is not widely understood by the public, and certainly not by most policymaking officials. You can seldom prove something to someone who does not want to see it proven, or has financial or ideological reasons to not see it proven.

Many fish species are now already 90% gone from the Oceans and the disappearance of fish species has lately been accelerating. If this long-term trend remains, all fish species are projected to collapse by 2048. By then, around 4 billion of the projected 9.3 billion individuals on the planet could be without their primary source of protein, creating a global food security problem.        

The oceans are home to the greatest diversity of life. As the oceans are changing, the character of the planet will change. It took about 4 billion years for living systems, mostly in the sea, to transform the lifeless ingredients of early Earth into the climate, which makes our lives possible. It has required less than 100 years for us to destabilise these ancient rhythms.

We are witnessing a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences. The stability of the system is declining. Losing species changes the predictability of the oceans. The ability of the system to absorb shocks and disasters and contend with climate change is dwindling at a fast rate.

Shifts in climate are affecting Ocean systems and Ocean life just as on land, and those impacts in turn are influencing the atmosphere and terrestrial systems. As the principal driver of planetary climate and weather, changes in the ocean resonate globally. The rhythms of growth of our vegetation are directly tied to the rhythms of ocean surface temperature. The oceans control, or at least, significantly correlate with the growth patterns and the rainfall patterns on the continent. However, present climate change policies are focusing on the atmosphere and largely overlooking the Ocean. This is despite ample evidence that the Ocean drives and regulates planetary climate, weather, temperature and chemistry.

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population now lives within 40 miles of the coast. Projections of what is possible by mid-century are not comforting to those who live on a waterfront or island. At the current rates of sea level rise, some of the most beautiful places on Earth such as the Maldives are predicted to be submerged before 2100.

Numerous models have been crafted to anticipate the consequences of increasing greenhouse gases, with the conclusion that by the end of the century we would 2°F to 11.5°F

of warming and reach a runaway tipping point where the process begins to feed itself. The world would be driven by conflict, famine, flood and drought. This could bring about the extinction of 95% of species on the planet as undesirable plants and animals proliferate. Water supplies would dry up, agriculture would be disrupted and super extremes of weather would occur. Hundreds of millions of people could be forced to leave their homelands and be met by armed conflict, which could become a permanent feature of life on Earth.

The Oceans provide 97% of our planet’s living space, yet less than 5% of the Ocean has been seen, let alone explored. Marine ecosystems hold far more biological and genetic diversity and density than the tropical rainforests, which tells us that we don’t know much about this planet at all. The world register of marine species found that up to three-quarters of the world’s marine animals and plants are yet to be learned which means it may well be the next rainforest for pharmaceuticals.

Since the science of marine biotechnology was kick-started five years ago, scientists have found micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins that could be applied to create new medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes. For example, a cancer drug Halaven was derived from sponges, a particularly promising marine resource.

However, tragically, we are destroying marine biodiversity 1,000 times faster than natural, before we’ve even had a chance to benefit from it. Overfishing, pollution and climate change are all interacting in a way that may prevent the Ocean from ever recovering.

The problem that we are seemingly unable to countenance is the end of growth. Today's system is predicated on the progressive conversion of nature into products, people into consumers, cultures into markets and time into money. We are trying to continue that growth for a few more years by fracking and deep-sea oil drilling, but only at a higher and higher cost to future generations. Now that most of the best, easy to access oil is running out it is becoming less and less economically viable to extract crude oil to the extent that the average price per barrel has tripled in just 7 years. This has increased the cost of everything and helped place most Western economies into an on-going recession.

Sadly, many people need to endure something themselves before it touches them. It may well be that only disaster will effectuate change. It may take a devastating example of extreme weather for people to wake up and do something.

The future of the Ocean, the creatures who live there, and our own future are inextricably linked. The future of life depends on us doing something. The next 40 years may be the most important in the next 10 thousand. In the end, our snippet of time representing the human race will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.