WASHINGTON (CN) – As the globe begins to fry, ocean acidification threatens many of the finned species with extinction along with destruction of the $111 billion in economic trade that comes from the ocean, legislators were told last week by a host of witnesses, including the descendant of famed oceanographer Jaques-Yves Cousteau.
“The ocean is the lifeblood of the Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature and ultimately supporting all living organisms,” Alexandra Cousteau said, the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Ttestifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, a series of witnesses warned of a slow-motion death to the sea that will be felt by those who come after us. “Future generations will remember us for this,” said Brad Warren of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.
“Jobs and economic opportunities that emerge from our oceans, Great Lakes, and coastal resources, generate more than 50 percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product and provide over 70 million jobs to Americans,” Stated West Virginia Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller, chair of the cate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
He added that climate change is “jeopardizing the $111 billion commercial seafood industry.”
Judith Kildow, director of the National Ocean Economics Program, said that coastal states make up 83 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product. “The coast is the US economy,” she said. “This is a part of our economy we cannot ignore.”
A loss of fish not only means a bite out of GDP. It also means a loss of food.
According to an estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization, three billion people rely on the ocean for essential nutrition worldwide.
But carbon emissions could dramatically reduce this food source. “The dangerous rise in world emissions of carbon dioxide has the potential to undercut every aspiration we have for fisheries and ocean ecosystems” said Warren of the fisheries partnership.
High levels of carbon dioxide lead to ocean acidity and warming, which can have dramatic effects on the species living in the oceans.
“The changes have been measured, not just modeled,” said Brad Warren. Billions of tons of carbon dioxide are mixing into the ocean each year, making it more acidic. The acid dissolves shells and corals.
Scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 67 percent of larval Blue King Crab died when exposed to acidity levels similar to that already measured in waters along parts of the US West Coast.
Water off the coast of Alaska and the US West Coast is especially susceptible to carbon dioxide accumulation.
This is a particular problem to the US food supply because Alaska supplies two thirds of the US fish harvest.
“The ocean, which has been so generous to human beings for so long, now needs our help,” said Brad Warren.
“If we want the ocean to keep producing the benefits we enjoy — things like fish, whales, seafood jobs for millions of people, and about half of the oxygen we breathe — then we’re going to need carbon policies that preserve its capacity to deliver the goods,” he said.
All of the experts called on carbon emissions regulation.
If carbon emissions are not regulated, the world stands to lose more than just fish. Advances in the pharmaceutical industry could be negatively affected. William Fenical, a professor at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography noted that the average lifespan in 1900 was 47 years. In 2009, it was 76 years. The jump, he said, was largely due to advances in pharmaceuticals.
The ocean is still largely untapped by pharmaceutical companies, but it already looks promising. Cancer drugs derived from ocean organisms are in the pharmaceutical pipeline and the ocean is home to many more microorganisms than on land. It’s been mostly microorganisms that have contributed to drugs.
But perhaps most of all, it is a sense of responsibility to this enormous and essential body. “.
Destroying the ocean and its organisms would have long lasting consequences. Extinct species cannot jump back to life. What the oceans lose now, may never recover. “Future generations will remember us for this,” Warren said.