ENVIRONMENT

Rutgers Marine Biologist: There Are Ways to Reverse Negative Impacts on Ocean Life

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.” That quote from a member of the research team that published “Marine Defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean” just published in the journal Science. Ecologists and scientists from Rutgers University, the University of California system and Stanford say humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans. Rutgers Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources Assistant Professor Malin Pinsky told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the research revealed both positive and negative results.

“Well what we found in our review includes both good news and bad news. On the one hand, while our impacts on the ocean are accelerating, they’re not so bad that we can’t reverse them,” said Pinsky. “The bad news is that we may be sitting on a cliff where we see many more marine extinctions in the future. It’s a question of how we develop the oceans going forward.”

The researchers compiled data from a variety of sources that had never been analyzed together. Pinsky said that there has been a lot of talk about a mass extinction event on land and that he, along with the other authors, were curious if that might also happen in the ocean. Pinsky also said that together the authors pulled any source of data that they thought was relevant to their question, to help understand the past, present and future of marine wildlife. According to Pinsky, they found that while human impacts on marine wildlife have mostly been hunting or fishing in the past, they have started to change in recent decades.

“We’re now starting to transform ocean habitats, so destroying the homes that marine wildlife need for survival. And those kinds of impacts are much harder to reverse,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky said that there are a number of examples of impacts to the ocean, such as destructive fishing through bottom trawling that can pulverize habitats that lie off the coasts. He also said that global warming is destroying coral reefs.

According to Pinsky, it is incredibly hard to determine the well-being of underwater species because the oceans cover about 70 percent of the earth and we know less about the bottom of the ocean floor than about the surface of the moon. Because of the mass expanse of oceans, he said it’s difficult to know if a species has gone extinct. “At least 500 animals have gone extinct on land and we only know about 15 extinctions in the ocean over the last 500 years. That’s likely somewhat of an underestimate.”

Pinsky said that the oceans are interconnected and that there is lots of movement of species, nutrients and currents throughout. He said that going forward there has to be a balance of human need for resources against the functioning of the ocean ecosystems.

When asked how people can reverse the negative effects on marine life, Pinsky said, “So there’s a lot we can do, both as individuals and at a governmental level. Trying to reduce our energy use, so driving energy fuel efficient cars or reducing energy use in the home can go a long way towards combating global warming and then therefore helping the ocean wildlife. At a governmental level, setting up ocean parks and also limiting industrial uses of the ocean can be a big help as well.”