We’re destroying our oceans - We must turn tide on seas’ destruction

Footage of two killer whales — orcas — taken off Dublin on Saturday showed the grace and power of these magnificent, but endangered animals.

Orcas have great charisma and exude an air of independence few sea animals match. Once seen at close quarters, they leave a deep impression — as anyone who saw the pod that visited Cork city’s quays in 2001 will recall.

That charisma may not, however, save them. Research published in September warns that more than half of the world’s orca populations could disappear within 50 years, because of the legacy of banned toxins. PCBs were widely outlawed in the 1980s, yet northern hemisphere orcas are still heavily contaminated.

PCBs, transferred through the food chain, are suspected of altering orca behavior, damaging immune systems, and limiting reproduction, pushing many groups towards the cusp of extermination.

The sperm whale that washed up in Indonesia on Monday will be remembered for different reasons.

The unfortunate animal had a choking ball of rubbish in its stomach. This included 115 plastic cups, a pair of flip-flops, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, a nylon sack, and more than 1,000 more plastic pieces.

The animal, and many more, died because of our recklessness. Yet, that abuse is just one way we degrade the seas.

Over-fishing has pushed species to the point that they cannot reproduce at a rate needed to sustain a harvestable surplus.

The underwhelming response to these reports hardly augurs well, especially as one expert warns that the last generation to eat wild fish from our seas has been born.

Sadly, there’s much more. Last January, Science reported that ocean dead zones, marine areas without oxygen, have quadrupled since 1950, growing by millions of square kilometres, roughly equivalent in size to the EU. That report also warned that the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts multiplied tenfold.

At least 500 coastal dead zones have been identified, up from fewer than 50 in 1950. Weak, random monitoring suggests the real number may be higher.

Sea creatures cannot survive in these deserts, a reality leading towards mass extinction.

The only question is when, or how, that man-made catastrophe will conclude — it is well underway, as the recent WWF report showing that 70% of wildlife has disappeared since the 1970s confirms.

The cost of reversing this destruction is eye-watering — though not as eye-watering as not reversing it.

The International Maritime Organisation, in an effort to avert further climate change, has ruled to cut sulphur in fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020. Fuel accounts for 90% of world trade costs, so this will add up to €13bn a year to bills, which will hit consumers or limit international trade.

If all of this seems remote, if being even a small part of the solution seems beyond your reach, consider this.

If, over Christmas, every household collected all the single-use plastic that comes as a food wrapper, a bottle, or anything else, for, say three weeks, they might accumulate enough first-hand evidence to stir even the most indifferent conscience — especially as most households will gather more than enough plastic waste to choke a sperm whale.


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