World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline, report finds ‘speeds of many negative changes … are tracking the worst-case scenarios’

Professor Chris Reid, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth and Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science highlights the speed of change which has been greater than most scientists predicted even in worst case scenarios.

A “shocking” report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) comes from the “first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.”

The 27 leading experts “produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues”:

we now face losing … entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high intensity stressors has been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years

Dr. Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director, said in a release:

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

This bad news isn’t big news to Climate Progress readers.  Two years ago I discussed a study that found global warming is “capable of wrecking the marine ecosystem and depriving future generations of the harvest of the seas” for a long, long time (see 2009 Nature Geoscience study concludes ocean dead zones “devoid of fish and seafood” are poised to expand and “remain for thousands of years).

A year ago I wrote about a Nature Geoscience study, which found our oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.  Also last year the Geological Society reported that acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century.”

This report makes clear that dangerous impacts are occurring now, and we have little time to act to avert catastrophe.  It’s good to see a group of leading experts spell things out bluntly, along with some must-see videos like these two:

Case Study 1: The potentially deadly trio of factors — warming, acidification and anoxia — affecting today’s oceans, by Professor Jelle Bijma, Marine Biogeosciences, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Watch his explanation, beginning with the growing problem of anoxia, or dead zones, in the ocean.

You can Download Case Study PDF here.  The PDF on what we’re doing to the corals is here.

A broader overview of the report is here:

Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, gives the overview of the main problems affecting the ocean — and some suggested solutions.

Here are some key findings:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.

Consequences of current rates of  change already matching those predicted under the “worst case scenario” include: the rate of decrease in Arctic Sea Ice and in the accelerated of both the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctic ice sheets; sea level rise; and release of trapped methane from the seabed….

  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
  • Timelines for action are shrinking.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction.
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.

The first recommended action will come as no big surprise to no one but the disinformers:

Immediate reduction in CO2 emissions

The UK Media has been blunt in its reporting:

I hope the US media gives this urgent and consequential story equally strong attention.


Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:

Leif Erik Knutsen

We are talking about ~ 71% of the earth’s surface here. It takes very little research to see that land surface is presented with similar problems from deforestation to top soil lose to water availability. It sure looks like the time for serious action is now or preferably yesterday. What good are profits in a dead earth?

June 21 at 5:24pm


You can forget about the first recommendation. We may eventually begin to reduce CO2 emissions but it will not be immediate. China will not be able to reduce emissions before 2030 and the US is being held hostage by anti-science legislators who are bought and paid for by Big Oil and King Coal. This will not change any time soon so just sit back, by all means be optimistic, and watch the great experiment unfold.

Since those who understand the science always call for immediate reduction of CO2 emissions I don’t think this recommendation will come as a surprise to the disinformers.

June 21 at 5:33pm

Peter S. Mizla

Emissions will only be reduced when the public in this country votes these sidewinders out. And even then it will take a huge change in the congress- something like 1936 and 1964. The GOP will have to become a tiny minority- and the blue dogs will mostly be silent.

By feeling is that by 2030- climate events will become so out of control- with massive crop failures- and the beginnings of an agricultural shift- and demographic desertion of the center and southern parts of the country- a chaotic period will reign right into mid century. Resource wars, coastal flooding of cities, famine, economic chaos–

Only then will we try and reduce C02 and fossil fuel use.

June 21 at 6:24pm


We all know that desertification is spreading across Africa but I have seen recent articles on Pakistan, India, and Mongolia as well. Misery will be upon a very large portion of our population in short order. My thinking is by about 2025, with another billion people added to the population and India becoming the most populace country, water and food will become something worth going to war over.

June 21 at 6:59pm


Once of the reason why we now plan for worst case scenarios…

NASA-Pentagon project, called the 100 Year Starship Study, aims to get inventive minds thinking about how human interstellar space travel can become a reality.

official with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that the agency will award a $500,000 grant to the person or group who can lay out the most effective road map for financing and implementing a research and development program to lead to interstellar travel.​cience/2011/0618/NASA-laun​ches-100-year-quest-to-sen​d-humans-to-the-stars

June 21 at 5:44pm


It might be very well that we have to adopt ways to sustain the human species outside of the earth boundaries. Serious actions are not a debate anymore, they are the question of pure survival.

That does mean that we have to colonize near earth orbit and planets and reach out into deep space.

We looking at a future where huge parts of the world are either underwater or uninhabitable, that due to the physical limits of the human organism in prospect of the heat wet bulb temperature boundary.

The human race faces another genetic bottleneck – extinction scenarios have become are very likely.

June 21 at 5:50pm

Peter S. Mizla

Interstellar travel may be needed sooner then it its technologically possible.

Terra forming Mars is another possibility – but can humans be even trusted there?

June 21 at 6:17pm


Terra forming works over hundred of years and the mars atmosphere is very thin too. But i agree, it could serve as a colony for pure means of survival.

Must be kind of sickening to watch a greenhouse runaway unfold “outside” from a relative near distance.

June 21 at 6:28pm

John McCormick

Peter, wake up. Where’s the critical reasoning here?

Interstellar travel is on in the minds of those who still subscribe to Popular Mechanics. What we really need is perpetual motion machines. Don’t you agree?

Sorry for the snide comment but I cannot avoid over reacting when I hear mention of interstellar travel while Greece and maybe the US are on the verge of defaulting on their (our) loans.

June 21 at 8:40pm


“Lessons are repeated until learned”. Just how many planets do you want us to mess up? Before going off planet, we need to figure out how to run a democracy with an economic system that isn’t dependent on never ending economic growth (since nothing grows forever).

June 22 at 9:29am

Ian Orchard

Has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of even a simple weather satellite, let alone the behemoths envisaged for interstellar travel? I doubt that even Wall-E could survive on the planet they left behind.

June 22 at 9:39pm


The human civilization is on a bring to a major climate shift, where the fundaments of our everyday life collapse. People forget that even if we look at models which project the future, that the interconnections of the earth life forms and depending systems are all ultimately linked to the planets climate state. Psychological aspects and health issues alone have the chance to create anarchy throughout the world, much earlier. Again, things progress much faster – super exponentially, than previously thought. And that happens all the time we understand our situation better.

Risk management, actions for sustainable choices have become a necessity. The future of the human race depends on this. We can no longer just sit there and watch how the situation unfolds, while we idle with a system and technologies from the last century.

The interests funded denial on climate science is a threat to national security – the very survival of our species. We need to act swift if we want to preserve a stable and habitable situation to develop the tools and lifestyle changes we need, in order to combat the threats of climate change.

June 21 at 5:59pm


“I hope the US media gives this urgent and consequential story equally strong attention.”

Is that a joke?


June 21 at 6:23pm


Not really much… google lists atm 212 news articles about this study, equally strong starts at about 2000 items.

June 21 at 6:32pm


Yup, that’s my point – the US media as a whole NEVER gives these kinds of studies their due attention. So there’s little reason to even hope that will change; certainly not with the NY Times leading the herd.

June 22 at 10:08am


State Of The Ocean: ‘Shocking’ Report Warns Of Mass Extinction From Current Rate Of Marine Distress http://www.huffingtonpost.​com/2011/06/20/ipso-2011-o​cean-report-mass-extinctio​n_n_880656.html.

Has now over 5.500 comments.

June 21 at 7:07pm


2000 Years of Sea Level (+update).

A group of colleagues have succeeded in producing the first continuous proxy record of sea level for the past 2000 years. According to this reconstruction, 20th-Century sea-level rise on the U.S. Atlantic coast is faster than at any time in the past two millennia.

Good data on past sea levels is hard to come by. Reconstructing the huge rise at the end of the last glacial (120 meters) is not too bad, because a few meters uncertainty in sea level or a few centuries in dating don’t matter all that much. But to trace the subtle variations of the last millennia requires more precise methods.

Andrew Kemp, Ben Horton and Jeff Donnelly have developed such a method. They use sediments in salt marshes along the coast, which get regularly flooded by tides. When sea level rises the salt marsh grows upwards, because it traps sediments. The sediment layers accumulating in this way can be examined and dated. Their altitude as it depends on age already provides a rough sea level history.​/index.php/archives/2011/0​6/2000-years-of-sea-level/​#more-7947

June 21 at 7:33pm


You can use the term peak oil and people nod in understanding. You can use the term peak fish and people look at you as if you’re crazy.

I’ve pretty much stopped eating fish, even when Whole Foods says that their fish is from sustainable sources. That helps, but it’s not enough. Plus, by not eating fish I get to cut down on my heavy metal intake.

This story was on CBC news this morning. Sometimes mainstream media picks up these stories.

June 21 at 8:38pm

Marie Guthrie

Tragic. We know what to do; we just aren’t doing it. Indeed powerful political forces and monies interests are invested in accelerating the problem as fast as possible.

June 21 at 9:23pm


At a time when the oceans are accumulating heat at the rate of five Hiroshima bombs per second, are conspiracy theorists the people whom a nation should entrust with the future of our children? http://www.climatespectato​​and-wacky-world-climate-ch​ange-denial

June 21 at 9:36pm

Debbie Glover

until we admit we have overshot the carrying capacity of this rock we have zero chance.

June 21 at 10:40pm

Leif Erik Knutsen

As far as interstellar travel is concerned tell me why we would want to spend hundreds of billions, perhaps even trillions to launch a star ship with perhaps a few dozen folks to another system and leave the rest of us broke on a doomed planet? That money could very well be spent on triage here an perhaps save at least half of the worlds population. Perhaps even a significant portion of Earth’s Life Support Systems.

June 21 at 10:57pm

Adam Micolich

Because the rest of us can’t seem to get our act together to do something about the problem.

June 22 at 1:30am


First off this is a general step of advancement and these kind of leaps forward helped to create a lot in the process. Secondly it does not necessary mean to be extremely expensive.

You got already quiet remarkably low project cost for moon landings, see Google’s Lunar X-Prize.

Basically, once in orbit there is not much to stop us.

June 22 at 6:32am

Susan Shamel

I called my Senator, the clueless Dirty Air Scottie Brown, about this and sent the IPSO link to his environmental and energy aide (a policy man, actually.) How can anyone deny that H2O + CO2 + H2CO3?

June 21 at 11:19pm

Cathy Orlando

very scary

June 21 at 11:47pm

Maura Flynn

If it’s the same “Environmental and Energy” aide I spoke with, he qualifies because he has a BS in History. Huh?

June 22 at 1:04am

Linnea M. Palmer Paton

NRDC made a video on ocean acidification. It’s a great intro for people who haven’t heard much about this before:​ch?v=jtbBMmvkgtc&feature=l​ist_related&playnext=1&lis​t=SP2DEC3E1002C3418B

June 22 at 12:09pm

Susan Shamel

Let’s try to wake up our politicians! Send it to Dan Diorio, Senator Brown’s aide: Daniel_Diorio@scottbrown.s​

June 22 at 12:17pm

Cathy Orlando

I am here on Capital Hill in Washington Lobbying Senators, Congress Persons and the World Bank right now to put a “tipping” fee on carbon pollution and give the money back to the people in form of a dividend check. I am a Citizens Climate Lobbyist. 85 citizens lobbyists are meeting with over 140 Federal politicians this week. We also met with the World Bank to ask them to stop backing loans for fossil fuel projects. In Washington anything is possible.

June 22 at 6:55am

Cathy Orlando

to my friends on my FB wall … this is FB post is also on Think Progress ..

June 22 at 7:02am

Rob Watters

Go gettem Cath

June 22 at 9:53am

Terry Gallagher

The Oceans are dying and in the famous words of Pogo, “We have identified the enemy and he is us”.

June 22 at 7:45am

Adrian Goldsmith

Why can’t we face facts and change our habits?

June 22 at 8:26am

Scott Swabsky

Looks like I made the right decision not to have children. We live in a world where short term profits are more important than survival of the species.

June 22 at 1:21pm

Michael Kinney

This and climate change and rising ocean levels, and still so many people don’t believe the science. A VP here at my company doesn’t, and additionally shocking, he says even if true, let the future generations take care of it. Like how? Too late.

June 22 at 3:20pm

Jeff Greer

Why do you believe the science? Are you a scientist? If not, then you are basing your opinion on something some one else tells you is true. This climate change science may be right on the money or it may be hogwash. I don’t know because I am not a scientist. But I have read where some scientists don’t agree with the others about it. If it was proven and provable, why are there scientists that don’t agree? After reading the IPCC emails that were leaked where they were conspiring against those that disagreed by refusing peer review of their papers, and how the data was lost upon which they based there original theories, I decided that there was something wrong with this. Then when people started making money on it, I withdrew even further. Tell me how I am wrong here.

June 22 at 7:51pm

Baci Ottenbrite

This study (and all other science-based infromation on oceans) should mandate American Progress firing Michael Conathan from his “progressive” oceans policy inanity. Joe Romm, stop reprinting his essays.

June 22 at 11:14pm

Goodnews Cadogan

… we now face losing … entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high intensity stressors has been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years.

June 23 at 5:00pm

Gwen Cikizwa Gysman

bad news

June 24 at 1:10am

Stephan Dill

If we act “Now!” this can be stopped and maybe even reversed. Do we Love our children, families, friends and neighbors enough? Time will tell. God help us if we don’t stop this.

June 24 at 9:54pm

Jason Johnston

hmm global warming people were saying that the ocean levels were rising due to the melting of the caps… does this mean that the global warming issues are done with? …… sorry couldn’t resist! I don’t mind doing my part to protect the future ;)

June 24 at 10:38pm

Stephan Dill

Global warming is only a small part of it. Pollution and run off from agriculture are a big part.

June 24 at 10:50pm

Charles Carlson

It’s further confirmation of the first observations about the nature of life in an environment of limited resources made by Thomas Malthus, some 200 years ago.

June 27 at 8:16pm

Comments are closed.