An international and interdisciplinary meeting of 27 expert marine scientists cautions of serious and quickening risks to the planet’s oceans and fears of “commercial extinction” of many species and of “an unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of habitat types” such as mangroves and seagrass meadows.

The state of the globe’s oceans is getting progressively worse, and doing so more quickly than experts had anticipated not long ago.

That could be the sound-bite “take-home message” from a new report issued by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, IPSO, in cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

The report is based on a meeting of oceans experts held recently at the University of Oxford. The group pointed to “severe declines in many species to the point of commercial extinction” and to “an unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of habitat types” such as mangroves and seagrass meadows. It cautioned about growing risks of “the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean.”

“The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions,” the group cautioned, “but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.” It pointed in particular to a rate of decrease in Arctic sea ice and accelerated melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and to 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,” the group’s report cautions, and “timelines for action are shrinking.”

The experts convened for the meeting concluded that “technical means to achieve the solutions to many of the problems the workshop identified already exist, but current societal values prevent humankind from addressing them effectively. ”

The group recommended action in four specific areas:

  • Immediate reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and, as “a matter of urgency,” consideration of the oceans as a priority matter in IPCC and other United Nations deliberations;
  • “Urgent actions” to restore marine ecosystems structure and function: Long-term sustainability of fishing and fisheries; closures of fisheries not effectively managed; a “globally comprehensive” system of marine protected areas; prevention, reduction, and strict control of nutrient inputs; stringent regulation of oil, gas, aggregate, and mineral extraction, and; assessment, monitoring and control of other uses of the marine environment.
  • “Proper and universal” implementation of the precautionary principle; and
  • “Urgent Introduction” by the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly of effective governance of the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of any one individual nation, including proper rules, regulations, and procedures.