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Dr. Reese Halter Headshot

Oceans Report Card, November 2013

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The 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference is well underway in Warsaw, Poland, and while the World Meteorological Organization is predicting 2013 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded - the Polish government took it upon themselves to invite a who's who of greenhouse gas polluters to sponsor their event. Meanwhile our oceans are ailing, terribly.

Burning fossil fuels since the 1850s has directly caused the oceans to become 26 percent more acidic. This is an epic man-made disaster.

Each day, 24/7, 365 our oceans are currently attempting to digest over 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. As the oceanic phytoplankton absorbs carbon dioxide, converting the sun's energy into green cells, oxygen is released into the atmosphere and a weak carbonic acid is released into the sea as a byproduct of this reaction. The oceans have absorbed so much carbon dioxide that they are now acidifying faster than the previous 300 million years.

This is horrible news for all sealife and in particular coral reefs and all shellfish because they are made up of calcium carbonate, which melts under acidic conditions. About 50 percent of the world's coral reefs have died and the mortality rate may be as high as 75 percent in the Caribbean Sea and on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. By the way, coral reefs are to biodiversity in the ocean what the Lamborghini of rainforests, the Amazon, is to life on land: Hotbeds of life!

As of the second week in November (2013) hundreds of endangered sea turtles have washed onshore in Latin America along the Pacific coastline. Although El Salvador's environment minister is claiming neurotoxins from a red tide as the culprit there's sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise.

Dead sea turtles near the Murcielago archipelago in the northwest province of Guanacaste of Costa Rica were covered with longline hooks and nylon strings and ropes. Apparently, the week before the Costa Rican incident -- fishermen were rapaciously hunting Mahi Mahi and the turtles were innocent by-catch victims. Incidentally, there's enough longlines with about 1.7 billion hooks and fishing nets (some with mouths wide enough to fit one dozen 747 jets inside) in our oceans that if attached to one another they would encircle the equator 522 times or 27 return trips to the moon; that's over 13 million miles of tangled, lethal lines.

As if their gruesome, excruciating deaths weren't enough to annihilate all the remaining Pacific Latin American endangered sea turtles - egg poaching is delivering the coup de grace. A Thai airport recently confiscated about 1,000 endangered sea turtle eggs from a poacher who stole them from Pacific Latin America.

Further north in the Pacific Ocean there's a massive die-off of starfish occurring from California to Alaska. These splendid creatures are melting away leaving puddles of 'white goo' behind or what scientists are calling 'Starfish Wasting Syndrome.' The die-off in some tidal pools is as high as 95 percent. Very recently, a smaller Atlantic outbreak has been recorded off the coast of Maine and Rhode Island.

Scientists from University of California Santa Cruz say a die-off of this scale has never been witnessed before. The ripple effect of loosing starfish along the Pacific tidal ecosystems is huge. Starfish eat mussels, preventing mussel populations from exploding and consuming everything within tidal pools.

Dolphins are sentinels for ocean health. Along the eastern seaboard from New York to Florida since June (2013) over 782 bottlenose dolphins (one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet) have died in what NOAA has dubbed an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).

The dolphins are dying from a morbillivirus, which is similar to the measles virus in humans or the distemper virus in dogs, wolves and seals. There's no vaccination, it's contagious and causes skin lesions, inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and finally death.

This measles-like virus was recently found in three stranded and decayed humpback whales and two pygmy sperm whales along the eastern seaboard. Evidently, it can be transmitted amongst the cetaceans (whales and dolphins).

The 2013 UME has now eclipsed the 1987-1988 bottlenose dolphin event, which caused 740 deaths, in half that time period. Scientists know the oceans are rife with toxicity and that the immune systems of east-coast bottlenose dolphins are weak -- making it far easier for both bacterial and fungal infections to set in.

We can expect a lot more deaths in Florida as the Atlantic Ocean temperatures are cooling off farther north and the dolphins are migrating southward. Already this week, North Carolina has seen 15 dead animals wash ashore.

It is imperative that dolphins remain healthy because they prevent diseases amongst their prey from becoming epidemics throughout the oceans.

The November 2013 ocean report card score is an egregious 'F'. Our oceans are dying, and as Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society continues to warn us: "If the sea dies, we die."

On December 1, 2013 Japan intends to mount its 10th consecutive campaign to slaughter whales in the Great Southern Ocean within an international whale sanctuary. The existence of those exquisite filter-feeding whales are of paramount importance because their flocculent fecal plumes fertilize the ocean providing essential minerals for phytoplankton to prosper, in turn creating abundant fisheries -- ensuring a healthy marine ecosystem.

Please support Sea Shepherd Australia as they are courageously protecting the whales from the loathsome Japanese poachers. It's time to end 'The War Against Nature' - now!

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of the upcoming book 'Shepherding the Sea.'

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