The Pacific Ocean is the world’s deepest and largest ocean, covering approximately one-third of the globe’s surface. It may appear that an ocean of this size is unstoppable. The fragile ecology of the Pacific Ocean, on the other hand, is under threat all the way from Antarctica to the Arctic and from Asia to Australia to the Americas. In the vast majority of cases, human conduct is to blame. We have systematically devastated the Pacific’s fish supplies. We’ve used it as a dump – rubbish has been discovered in the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest point at 11,000 metres below sea level.
The Pacific, like other oceans, is growing more acidic as we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It implies fish are losing their ability to see and smell, and sea invertebrates are having difficulty forming shells. The majority of the oxygen we inhale is produced by oceans. They control the weather, feed millions of people, and provide a source of money. As a result, we all benefit from oceans that are healthy and vibrant. We may also begin the lengthy process of conserving the Pacific by better comprehending the risks it faces.
The Menace of Ocean Plastic
Plastic waste of all sizes, from nanometres to metres, may be found in all major marine environments throughout the world. A small amount of this condenses into massive floating “trash patches,” the largest of which is located in the Pacific Ocean. Rivers transmit the majority of land-based plastic trash into the ocean. Only 20 rivers contribute two-thirds of worldwide plastic pollution to the ocean, with ten of them emptying into the northern Pacific. The Yangtze River in China, for example, which flows through Shanghai, dumps 1.5 million metric tonnes of trash into the Pacific’s Yellow Sea each year.
Plastic garbage in the water can take a variety of forms: it might sink, wash up on beaches, or float on the surface, carried by currents, wind, and waves. In the open ocean, five subtropical “trash patches” collect about 1% of all plastic waste. They’re generated by ocean circulation, which is influenced by fluctuating wind fields and the Earth’s rotation. There are two subtropical rubbish patches in the Pacific: one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern. The northern accumulation region is divided into two sections: an eastern patch that runs between California and Hawaii and a western patch that runs eastward from Japan.
The North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, which is located a few hundred kilometres north of Hawaii, connects these bands of whirling debris. Warm water from the South Pacific collides with cold water from the Arctic in this convergence zone. The zone functions as a highway, carrying trash from one patch to the next. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre encompasses the whole Great Pacific Garbage Patch or Pacific trash vortex. The California Current, the North Equatorial Current, the Kuroshio Current, and the North Pacific Current are the four currents that make up the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which covers an area of 20 million square kilometres (7.7 million square miles). The middle of a gyre has a calm and steady atmosphere. The gyre’s round circulation pulls trash into the stable core, trapping it. Although much of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not biodegradable, it accumulates. Many plastics, for example, do not wear out; instead, the sun breaks down these plastics into tinier fragments which is known as Photodegradation. For many people, the concept of a “garbage patch” brings up thoughts of a floating island of junk. In truth, these patches are almost entirely made up of microplastics, which are microscopic particles of plastic. Microplastics are invisible to the human eye in some cases. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s microplastics can turn the sea into a cloudy soup. Larger objects, such as fishing gear and shoes, are tossed in with the soup. Furthermore, not all debris floats to the surface. Denser material can fall centimetres or even metres below the surface, making measuring the vortex’s size practically difficult. Synthetic fishing nets accounted up over half of the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, according to a 2018 study, which was mostly attributable to ocean current dynamics and increased fishing activity in the Pacific Ocean.
Marine Wildlife’s Worst Fear
Marine life is endangered by plastic trash in the waters. Animals can become entangled in trash such as discarded fishing nets, injuring or drowning them. When seals and other marine animals drown in these abandoned nets, the phenomenon is known as “ghost fishing.” When plastics degrade due to Photodegradation, colourants and compounds like Bisphenol A (BPA) are released, which have been connected to environmental and health issues.
Ingesting trash, such as microplastics less than five millimetres in diameter, can also affect wildlife. This plastic can restrict a creature’s mouth or build up in its stomach. Frequently, the animal endures a slow, painful death. Plastic bags, for example, are frequently mistaken for jelly, a favourite diet of loggerhead sea turtles. Albatrosses mistook plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and fed them to chicks, who died from hunger or organ rupture.
Microscopic algae and crustaceans, for example, can hitch a ride on floating trash and move thousands of miles across the oceans. This means they can be moved outside of their natural habitat and become invasive in new areas. The marine food web can be harmed by even marine detritus. Microplastics and other garbage that collect at the ocean’s surface block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below. In the marine food chain, algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs or producers. The entire food web may shift if algae and plankton communities are endangered. Fish and turtles, which eat algae and plankton, will have fewer options. There will be less food for apex predators like tuna, sharks, and whales if the populations of such creatures decline. People will eventually have less access to fish, and it will become more expensive.
Small Nations Face a Scourge
Plastic is incredibly resilient and can float for long distances. During the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, 5 million tonnes of debris reached the Pacific. Some made it to the North American coasts after crossing the entire ocean basin. People’s litter and ocean deposition were mixed together with the debris. Plastic pollution was detected in the highest amounts in coastal backshores, which are places near the inland border of the beach where vegetation begins.
The further moving away from the water’s edge, the more rubbish is discovered. Onshore wave action and, to a lesser extent, wind activity influence the amount of marine debris and where it ends up. Hotspots for trapped plastics included densely populated areas and areas with easy access to the coast. Kamilo Beach, on Hawaii’s Big Island’s south-eastern tip, is regarded as one of the world’s most polluted beaches. Each year, up to 20 tonnes of garbage wash up on the shore. Similarly, 18 tonnes of plastic have collected on a 2.5-kilometer-long beach on uninhabited Henderson Island, which is part of the Pitcairn Island chain in the south Pacific. Every day, tens of thousands of pieces of plastic are washed away.
When wildlife mistake pollution for food or become entangled in it, it kills or maims them. It has the potential to harm fragile marine ecosystems by suffocating sensitive reefs and conveying invasive species, as well as posing a health risk to humans if toxins in plastics make their way up the food chain.
Fisheries on the Brink of Extinction
The Pacific hosts some of the world’s largest fisheries being the world’s largest and deepest sea. These fisheries have provided food and livelihood to people for thousands of years.
However, fishing operations are destroying fish populations faster than they can recover around the planet, especially in the Pacific. One of the most serious hazards to the world’s oceans is overfishing. When humans extract fish resources beyond the “maximum sustainable yield,” overfishing occurs. Excessive fishing depletes global fish stocks, disrupts food chains, destroys habitats, and reduces human food availability. Huge tuna fisheries abound in the Pacific Ocean, accounting for over 65 percent of global tuna catches each year. Many tuna populations, however, are in danger of extinction.
In the Northern Pacific Ocean, for example, research published in 2013 indicated that the population of bluefin tuna – a valued species used in sushi – had decreased by more than 96%. Overfishing is a huge problem in developing countries like Indonesia and China, but it is also a problem in developed countries. Overfishing has contributed to the fast reduction of Pacific salmon populations along Canada’s west coast since the early 1990s. Japan was recently chastised for proposing to raise quotas on Pacific bluefin tuna, a species with a population estimated to be at only 4.5 percent of its historic level.
Overfishing is a problem in Australia as well, according to experts. Large fish species, for example, are fast diminishing across the country as a result of overfishing, according to a study published in 2018. In the ten years leading up to 2015, exploited populations in fishing zones decreased by 33% on average.
Overfishing occurs for a variety of reasons, many of which go unregulated. The evidence points to: poverty among developing-country fishermen; fishing subsidies that allow large fishing fleets to travel to developing-country waters and compete with small-scale fishermen in order to keep struggling industries afloat; poor fishery and community management; and weak compliance with fishing regulations due to a lack of local government capacity.
Let’s consider the case of Indonesia. Indonesia, which is located between the Pacific and Indian oceans, is the world’s third-largest producer of wild-caught fish, behind China and Peru. Small-scale fishermen account for roughly 60% of the catch. Many come from impoverished coastal areas. Indonesia was the first country to report overfishing in the 1970s. In 1980, a presidential decree prohibited trawling off the coasts of Java and Sumatra. Overfishing, however, lasted until the 1990s and continues now. Reef fish, lobster, prawn, crab, and squid are among the species targeted. The example of Indonesia demonstrates that there is no simple solution to the overfishing problem. The Indonesian government issued a regulation in 2017 with the goal of keeping fishing at a sustainable level of 12.5 million tonnes per year. Nonetheless, the practise persisted in many places, owing to a lack of clarity in the rules and insufficient local enforcement.
The fact that practically all of Indonesia’s smaller fishing vessels are under the supervision of provincial administrations made implementation difficult. This demonstrates the importance of closer coordination between tiers of government in combating overfishing.
Ocean Acidification Is a Serious Threat
More than 75% of the world’s coral reefs are found in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical and subtropical waters. The Great Barrier Reef, as well as more remote coral reefs in the Coral Triangle, such as those in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, are among them. Climate change is wreaking havoc on coral reefs. We frequently read about how coral bleaching is wreaking havoc on coral ecosystems. However, another insidious process, ocean acidification, is putting reef survival in jeopardy. Shallow seas are highly prone to ocean acidification, and the subarctic Pacific region is particularly vulnerable. Coral reefs make up less than 0.5 % of the Earth’s surface but are home to over 25% of all marine life. These immensely diversified “underwater rainforests” are among the most endangered ecosystems on the globe due to ocean acidification and other threats.
Ocean acidification occurs when seawater absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, lowering its pH. Human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation emit 35 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. Oceans absorb up to 30% of CO2 from the atmosphere, triggering a chemical process in which carbonate ion concentrations decline and hydrogen ion concentrations rise. The ocean becomes more acidic as a result of this alteration. Coral structures and creatures that form shells rely on carbonate ions for their construction. As a result, a drop in carbonate ion concentrations can be detrimental to marine life.
Molluscs have been observed having difficulty building and repairing their shells in more acidic conditions. In addition, their growth, metabolism, reproduction, immunological function, and behaviour are all affected. Sea hares (a species of sea slug) in French Polynesia, for example, were found to have lower foraging success and make poorer decisions after being subjected to simulated ocean acidification. Acidification of the ocean is also a concern for fish. Elevated CO2 has been shown in numerous studies to impair people’s senses of smell, vision, and hearing. It can also affect survival features, including a fish’s capacity to learn, evade predators, and choose appropriate habitats. Changes in neurological, physiological, and chemical activities in fish brains appear to be the cause of such impairment.
Isn’t Too Late to Make a Difference
Five ocean garbage patches collect trash, the largest of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To remedy the problem, we must not only prevent more plastic from entering the water but also clean up what is currently there. Floating plastics trapped in the patches will circulate until they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, making cleanup more difficult and making sea life more likely to mistake them for food. Plastic will have a long-term impact on our ecosystems, health, and economies if it is allowed to circulate.
The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating and scaling methods to eliminate plastic from the oceans. They’ve created a device named System 001 that could make a dent in the massive amount of plastic floating about in the water. The huge pool noodle will travel through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, propelled by wind and currents and collecting plastic along the way. Ocean Cleanup is researching the best ways to reprocess and brand the waste it gathers in the hopes of finding a market for its one-of-a-kind product.
Even Governments should address poverty and lack of knowledge in tiny fishing communities to prevent overfishing. This could entail locating a new source of revenue for them. Former fishermen and women, for example, have converted to tourism in the Oslob town of Philippines, feeding whale sharks small amounts of krill to entice them closer to shore so tourists may snorkel or dive with them. Overfishing in the Pacific will also necessitate international collaboration to monitor and enforce fishing regulations. To conserve marine life, the world’s network of marine protected areas should be expanded and enhanced. Only about 3% of the world’s oceans are currently designated as “no-take” zones. Many marine reserves in Australia are smaller and located in places where commercial fishermen have little interest. The worldwide decline of fisheries demonstrates how vulnerable our marine life is. Humans are clearly exploiting the waters beyond what is sustainable. Seafood provides protein and income to billions of people throughout the world. Allowing overfishing to continue, however, harms not only the oceans but also ourselves.
Since 1991, the Pacific and Indian Oceans have been acidifying at the fastest rates among the 5 oceans. This means that their marine life is likewise at risk. However, not all marine organisms are affected in the same way by ocean acidification, and the consequences might change over time. Coral reefs provide food, money, and protection from storms and coastal erosion to about half a billion people. Reefs give employment opportunities, such as in tourism and fishing, as well as recreational opportunities. Coral reefs are a worldwide industry worth US$11.9 trillion each year. They’re also a location of significant cultural and spiritual connection for Indigenous peoples all across the world.
Coral reefs are threatened by more than just ocean acidification. Since the 1990s, the rate of ocean warming has doubled due to climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, the Great Barrier Reef, for example, has warmed by 0.8°C. This has resulted in devastating back-to-back coral bleaching outbreaks over the last five years. Ocean acidification amplifies the impacts of warmer waters. Emission reductions must become a worldwide goal. COVID-19 has delayed our progress throughout the globe, demonstrating that we can drastically reduce CO2 emissions. If the world achieves the most ambitious targets set out in the Paris Agreement, such as keeping global temperature increases at 1.5°C, the Pacific will see substantially fewer significant drops in oceanic pH. To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will need to cut emissions even more — by 45 %. This would give some optimism that coral reefs in the Pacific, as well as the rest of the planet, are not completely destroyed.
Clearly, the choices we make now will have an impact on the future appearance of our oceans.
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