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Mass extinction threat "significant" in oceans

The threats of over-fishing and to the world's fragile coral reefs have long been well documented, but now a panel of scientists say the threats to marine life are far worse than previously imagined.

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) convened a self-described "first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind" recently, and they have released a report claiming "multiple ocean stresses threaten globally significant marine extinction."

Dr. Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO, said in a press release: "The findings are shocking. As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized."

Study: Sea level rising at "unprecedented" pace

The group's report focuses on four case studies. The first involves the potentially deadly trio of factors -- warming, acidification and anoxia -- affecting today's oceans. The second involved the disappearing coral reefs around the world. The third looked at the problem of pollution in the ocean. The fourth focused on the notoriously bad problem of overfishing.

In the first case study, the report concludes that "Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth's history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors -- the 'deadly trio' -- which are present in the ocean today. In fact, (the situation) is unprecedented in the Earth's history because of the high rate and speed of change."

In the case of coral reefs, the report concludes that there exist "multiple threats (that) reefs are facing, that are now acting together to have a greater impact than if they were occurring on their own. This suggests that existing scientific projections of how coral reefs will respond to global warming have been highly conservative and must now be modified."

Pollution in the oceans is not a new concern to scientists, but the panel discovered that there is currently "a wide range of novel chemicals now being found in marine ecosystems...suspected to be harmful to marine life."

As for overfishing, there are already examples of humans nearly wiping out entire species due to their popularity on the dinner table. In the case of a fish called Chinese bahaba, "It has taken less than seventy years for this giant fish to become critically endangered after it was first described by scientists in the 1930s."

The group of scientists concluded that "urgent and unequivocal action" must be taken "to halt further declines in ocean health."

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