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Oceans Are Not On the Table At Climate Negotiations in Paris.

by Antonia JuhaszNewsweek
December 7th, 2015


Oceans Are Not On the Table At Climate Negotiations in Paris

The skull of a sei whale rests in a tidal creek on Byron Island in the Katalalixar National Reserve, Chile. Global whale populations have declined by as much as 90 percent in the last three centuries, and they have become symbols of the damage humanity has inflicted on the oceans. As the oceans become more inhospitable to life, the less able they are to help maintain the earth's favorable climate. MARIA STENZEL/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Sylvia Earle wants you to take a long, hard look at whale poop. More specifically, the veritable tsunamis of the stuff emitted in vast yellow plumes each day. They provide an unparalleled visual representation of how a rich diversity of life is essential to a healthy, resilient ocean, which is itself the key, she argues, to maintaining a planet that works in our favor.

Oceans are home to a wide array of vegetation, including mangrove forests, meadows of sea grass and, most important, phytoplankton. Just like terrestrial forests, sea vegetation conducts photosynthesis through which it also sequesters carbon. To do this, vegetation needs nutrients from other life in the sea, which comes mostly from decomposing bodies and excrement. Estimates suggest that whale populations—and the nutrients they provide—have declined by as much 90 percent in the last three centuries.

And whales are just one example. The more that we make the sea inhospitable to life, through pollution, overfishing, acidification and warming (which, she points out, is also melting frozen pockets of deep-sea methane that is being released into the atmosphere), the less capable the ocean is of helping to regulate our atmosphere.

Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth, contain 97 percent of its water and produce between 50 to 70 percent of all the oxygen we breathe. And yet, protecting, conserving and cleaning up our oceans is nowhere on the formal agenda at the United Nations’ 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.

It’s “the big blue elephant in the room,” Earle says. Everyone knows it’s essential, yet they’re not taking action, which baffles Earle, an oceanographer and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence who was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000... continues...

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