“Marine Life Facing Mass Extinction, report says” (IPSO) Report

Here is a video that helps us understand the magnitude of the Plastic Pollution in our oceans:

The new International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) report just came out documenting marine life facing extinction unless humans change their ways. CNN also published this video report recently:

Oceans At Risk of ‘Extinction’

The following report (Tiny toxic pellets choking WA beaches) from the Sydney Morning Herald talks more about the plastics threat.

Plastic resin pellets collected at Watermans Beach pellets in August 2010.

Millions of tiny plastic resin pellets, some containing harmful chemicals, which litter Western Australia’s southern beaches, are thought to be contributing to the “inevitable” wipe out of the world’s marine species.

A report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, held at Oxford University, has found that overfishing and ocean pollution is killing fish, sharks, whales and other marine species far faster than predicted, and could result in a catastrophic extinction event.

The international panel of marine experts said that conditions in today’s oceans were comparable to conditions during “every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history” and there was a “high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO, said when considering the cumulative effect of fertiliser run-offs, plastics, chemical pollutants, acidification and overfishing of the sea, “the implications became far worse than we had individually realized”.

“This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level,” he said.  “We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

Among these dangerous pollutants are plastic resin pellets, used in the manufacture of plastic drink bottles and other plastic ware.  Made up of different chemicals, they absorb pesticides and industrial chemicals found in the ocean and form concentrated toxic pills for unsuspecting marine life, according to WA’s Tangaroa Blue Ocean Care Society officer Wally Smith.

He said that among the more hazardous impacts the pellets could have, when accumulated in high doses, was creating hormone disruption and possible infertility.

One plastic polymer widely studied for its impact on hormones, more specifically on the creation of estrogen, was Bisphenol A (BPA).

It was found to be almost as potent as a person’s natural hormones back in the 1930s, but by the ’50s it was also discovered that BPA molecules could be synthesized into a hard durable plastic, now found everywhere, Mr Smith said.

“BPA is a fairly well-studied example of the transfer of estrogenic chemicals from plastics into the human body and this is the process occurring in natural environments as well,” he said.

“Although studies directed at the actual transfer of chemicals from the plastic into marine creatures is limited.” A variety of chemicals, many estrogenic, also get mixed into the polymer to give it the desired properties of color, flexibility, UV resistance and so on, he said.

“These chemicals are never fully fixed in the polymers and migrate to the surface and escape,” he said.  “So some of the chemicals in discarded plastic quickly escape into the air or water and enter the food web.”

The chemicals found on plastic resin pellets in the Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin area several years ago were found to be low but did include PCBs (industrial chemicals), DDT derivatives (pesticide), and HCH (pesticides) – all of which were hormone disruptors.

“No tests have occurred since then and the more appropriate testing regime in our view would be a local monitoring program over time covering a number of locations on the West Australian coast,” Mr Smith said.  “The tendency in Australia is to wait for overseas studies to prove these chemicals are affecting sea life.

“This is unfortunate as we are now beginning to get an idea of the scale of marine plastic pollution and how extensive micro-pollutants such as plastic resin pellets are.”  These pellets can be found in the thousands, and sometimes millions, on a single WA beach.

The pellets are often difficult to detect due to their size and color against the sand and could take lifetimes to sift out of the continually varying seashore.  However the South West coastal clean-up action group, Tangaroa Blue, has been collecting and recording these pellets in a bid to trace their movements and potential hazardous affect on marine life.

“We know some come from the Perth metropolitan area while others are carried here by ocean currents from distant countries,” Mr Smith said.  “Changing ocean acidity and temperature will affect the rate of release of chemicals from plastic and the subsequent toxicity of those chemicals.  “This kind of change may well speed up and magnify the impacts on marine life.”

Environmental Doomsday Unless Oceans are Respected

The IPSO report calls for such changes, recommending actions in key areas: immediate reduction of CO2 emissions, coordinated efforts to restore marine ecosystems, and universal implementation of the precautionary principle so “activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.” The panel also calls for the UN to swiftly introduce an “effective governance of the High Seas.”

“The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen,” Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and co-author of the report said in a press release for the new report. “The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent.”


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