Victorian scientists of the HMS Challenger era would no doubt be shocked by the ways in which humanity, and our use of fossil fuels, is altering the physical, chemical and biological nature of the oceans. Since the 1950s, coastal ecosystems have been radically transformed by human activity – the world population now stands at 7.2 billion and is rising fast. Our use of finite natural resources is accelerating and this, coupled with poor management of renewable resources, means the planet has entered a phase of mass extinction with widespread biodiversity loss.
The oceans are no exception; within a generation, fishing using fossil fuels has removed large fish from ecosystems and homogenised continental shelf habitats, with extensive damage now occurring all along shelf-break regions and even on remote seamounts. Here I attempt to set a problem of which we have only recently become aware – ocean acidification – into the context of other threats faced by the ocean. The good news is that we have the scientific evidence and social capital needed to address these problems. Governments are at last getting serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions and enforcing restrictions on destructive practices, but it will need the Victorians’ prowess in leadership and their political will to turn things around.
Jason Hall-Spencer pioneered the use of natural analogues to study the effects of rising CO2 levels on marine ecosystems. He is Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University, Editor-in-Chief of Regional Studies in Marine Science, a UK Government Scientific Advisor on Marine Conservation Zones and serves on the Ocean Acidification International Reference User Group. firstname.lastname@example.org