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Welcome to the Anthropocene

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“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens’s quote is showing itself to be prophetic. In the developed world, we have technologies that help us live longer, travel faster, and communicate across oceans at in the click of a button, and the developing world is doing everything it can to try and catch up. All of this is coming at a very dear cost to our ecosystems.
All of this is coming at a very real risk to the life on this planet; including our own! The resources needed to make these products, the energy it takes to power them, the luxury of having the time to do nothing but dream up newer and better products and technologies, and even the packaging that it all comes in is changing the our natural environment in a way that will eventually make our lives far more difficult, if we don’t act now.

We are in what some are calling the Anthropocene Epoch. It’s the first time in known history where one species is literally changing the ecosystem in a way that is not beneficial to it’s own sustainability. Mother Nature won’t let us have our cake and eat it, too. We need to start paying attention to the effects that our technologies are having on the very ecosystems that we rely on for our sustenance. Long after our cars, cities, and factories have turned to dust, the consequences of burning billions of tons’ worth of coal and oil are likely to be clearly discernible. As carbon dioxide warms the planet, it also seeps into the oceans and acidifies them. Sometime this century they may become acidified to the point that corals can no longer construct reefs, which would register in the geologic record as a “reef gap.” Reef gaps have marked each of the past five major mass extinctions.

Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution have two features in common. First, they are accelerating. They are growing broadly in line with global economic growth, so they can double in size every couple of decades. Second, they have extreme inertia — there is no real prospect of changing their trajectories in less than 20 to 50 years. Overfishing can bring down reefs because fish are one of the key functional groups that hold reefs together. Detailed forensic studies of the global fish catch by Daniel Pauly’s lab at the University of British Columbia confirm that global fishing pressure is still accelerating even as the global fish catch is declining. Overfishing is already damaging reefs worldwide, and it is set to double and double again over the next few decades.

445 million years ago, sediments slowly piled up on the bottom of an ancient ocean. In those days life was still confined mostly to the water, and it was undergoing a crisis. Some 80 percent of marine. The extinction event, known as the end-Ordovician, was one of the five biggest of the past half billion years. It coincided with extreme changes in climate, in global sea levels, and in ocean chemistry

Ocean acidification can also bring down reefs because it affects the corals themselves. Corals can make their calcareous skeletons only within a special range of temperature and acidity of the surrounding seawater. But the oceans are acidifying as they absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Research led by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland shows that corals will be pushed outside their temperature-acidity envelope in the next 20 to 30 years, absent effective international action on emissions.

We have even less of a handle on pollution. We do know that nutrients, particularly nitrogenous ones, are increasing not only in coastal waters but also in the open ocean. Fertilizer factories, for example, now fix more nitrogen from the air, converting it to a biologically usable form, than all the plants and microbes on land; the runoff from fertilized fields is triggering life-throttling blooms of algae at river mouths all over the world. This change is accelerating. And we know that coral reefs just can’t survive in nutrient-rich waters. These conditions only encourage the microbes and jellyfish that will replace coral reefs in coastal waters. We can say, though, with somewhat certainty that unstopped pollution will force reefs beyond their survival envelope by midcentury. This includes hydrocarbon spills, toxic and radioactive wastes.

We here at the World Federation for Coral Reef Conservation are setting ourselves as the model for the compiling and distribution of this public information on a publicly accessible platform; where now it only exists on the secure servers of governmental entities and private corporations. It is acknowledged by these entities that a platform like this would’ve helped recover more of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. It would be beneficial to scientists and educators so we can work to better the next generation, and for first responders and volunteers wanting to take initiative in cleanup efforts should a disaster occur.

We are revving up to launch our inaugural program. Best Practices for Oil Spill Clean Up and need your help to spread the word and excite people to donate and/or ask how they can help! Not everyone lives on the coast, but we all depend on them, for food, transportation and medicines. Join or Donate Today!