The ocean heat bomb ignites

Published : 13 May 2023 07:31 PM

Global warming and extensive overfishing have damaged ocean ecosystems well beyond recognition from only a few decades ago. Still, on its own accord, the ocean stood tall for over 3 billion years. But, alas, in less than one human lifetime it is teetering like never before, and credible studies claim the world’s oceans could be devoid of life within only three decades. This is one of the most troubling transformations of all time, nothing compares to it, absolutely nothing!

The ocean heat bomb is all about the impact of global warming and overfishing, neither of which is high enough on to-do lists of countries to help sustain ecosystems. It should be noted that Wall Street’s embrace of going green for a profit won’t come close (not enough scale soon enough) to solving the global warming problem, but there’s plenty of green to be made. By all appearances, the love affair with fossil fuels is a permanent fixture, according to IEA data, fossil fuels constitute ~80% of energy over the past 50+ years with no change as of 2023. And a reality check: “Big banks and investment firms have joined the ranks of companies making ‘net-aero’ pledges. But their huge stakes in oil and gas projects are undermining their climate promises.” (Source: How Wall Street’s Fossil-Fuel Money Pipeline Undermines the Fight to Save the Planet, Fortune, February 2, 2023)

Moreover, as if an overheated ocean is not enough of a headache, overfishing is totally out of control, nearly wiping out several species, e.g., over 11,000 sharks killed per hour at risks of extinction in part for a brew of tasteless shark fin soup.

The oceans are a gigantic heat sponge, absorbing 90% of planetary heat, enabling life to go on within its 10,000-yr Goldilocks Holocene cycle, not too hot not to cold. But times are changing very rapidly. For the first time that scientists recall, sea surface temperatures that always recede from annual peaks are failing to do so, staying high “with scientists warning that this underscores an underappreciated but grave impact of climate change.” (Source: Record Sea Surface Heat Sparks Fears of Warming Surge, Phys.org, May 4, 2023)

“Year by year ocean warming is increasing at an absolutely staggering rate,” Jean-Baptiste Sallée, Research Scientist, CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), Ibid.

Scientists are now warning that human-generated greenhouse gases are demonstrably exposing the worst possible scenario with the ocean turning into a global warming “heat bomb.” What goes around comes around. It appears that the ocean heat bomb has ignited.

According to US NOAA observatory recordings, in early April 2023 average surface temperatures of the oceans, excluding polar waters, hit an all-time high of 21.1°C (70°F). More than a passing interest, that all-time high might be goosed much higher by an upcoming El Niño weather phenomenon, triggering the ocean heat bomb by loading more onto the climate system. As such, the 2022 unprecedented disaster year, whacking every continent with destabilizing floods, droughts, heat, and fire may be bush-league when compared to what’s in store for 2023-24.

For perspective, it’s important to recall that 2022 was influenced by La Niña, a natural cooling cycle, yet near-record heat consumed the planet. La Niña didn’t help, which can only register as a telling disappointment. According to NASA, if the cooling impact of La Niña.is factored into the equation, 2022 was the warmest year on record.

The most immediate consequence of too much ocean heat will be more severe marine heatwaves which are comparable to terrestrial wildfires of rainforests. These underwater fire-equivalents degrade/destroy underwater kelp forests, e.g., West Coast Pacific kelp losses, and Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching, while also negatively altering key life-giving nutrients and oxygen needed for all sea life. Poof, the basic ingredients of a major ecosystem gone! This comes as the world’s oceans are already reeling from overfishing, chemical/plastic pollution, and acidification whilst overly stimulated by too much heat.

The ocean heat bomb threatens the lifeblood of civilization in a multifaceted manner and is expected to push back at some juncture by transferring heat back out. Could this spark a runaway overheated planet? Of course, it’s not only the human heat machine at work; it’s also human insatiableness, a glutinousness that ignores sustainability, destroying world fishing stock with remarkable speed and efficiency as the modern fishing fleet literally clobbers sea life.

The Overfishing Dilemma

Overfishing is a direct threat to future human consumption of sea food. According to research conducted by The World Counts (a source for ‘state of the planet’ real time data): “The world’s oceans could be virtually emptied for fish by 2048. A study shows that if nothing changes, we will run out of seafood in 2048. If we want to preserve the ecosystems of the sea, change is needed.”

The four-year study of 7,800 marine species concluded that the long-term trend is clear and predictable. It’s on a steep downward slope.

“Almost 90 percent of global marine fish stocks are now overfished, and wild capture fisheries struggle without sound regulatory frameworks and strong enforcement… Globally, data on fishing and fish stocks are insufficient to support proper management. A concerted national and international effort is needed to collect, analyze, and interpret fishing data for policymaking.” (Source: Life Below Water, The World Bank, 2017)

Nevertheless, according to The World Counts: As for fish stocks, roughly 80% of world fisheries are overly exploited, depleted or in state of collapse. Worldwide, 90% of large predatory fish, e.g., sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish are already gone. For example, according to the International Tuna Conservation Commission, the stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna has plummeted to 13% from its 1950 level. 

And according to Sci/Dev.net and the UN Food & Agri Org, Pacific bluefin tuna is estimated to be 4%-t0-5% of its 1950 levels.

The ocean’s problems are known. The solutions escape authorities. Today’s world fishing fleet has enough capacity to cover four (4) Earth-like ocean systems. It’s high tech and eerily similar to strip-mining on land. According to Canadian journalist Michael Harris, we are “using the black magic of technology to make a desert of the sea.” (Source: When Too Many Boats Chase Too Few Fish, PEW Trust, October 19, 2022)

Almost totally unregulated, the oceans are open prey for massive technologically advanced fishing fleets that literally scoop up everything, tossing aside bycatch, e.g., sharks. Mostly, these are Chinese vessels that prowl the seas. The Overseas Development Institute claims China’s distant-water fishing fleet has 17,000 vessels. 

The United States distant-water fleet numbers 300.“Having depleted the seas close to home, the Chinese fishing fleet has been sailing

farther afield in recent years to exploit the waters of other countries, including those in West Africa and Latin America, where enforcement tends to be weaker as local governments lack the resources or inclination to police their waters. Most Chinese distant-water ships are so large that they scoop up as many fish in one week as local boats from Senegal or Mexico might catch in a year.” (Source: How China’s Expanding Fishing Fleet is Depleting the World’s Oceans, YaleEnvironment360, August 17, 2020)

According to the IUU (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated) Fishing Index, China is ranked as the world’s worst abuser of sea laws, especially shark finning. China’s gigantic refrigerated vessels referred to as “Motherships” upload the catch of the Chinese fleet, thus allowing an entire fleet of trawlers to fish 24/7 without returning to port for weeks on end.

The ocean heat bomb fuse has been ignited. The question is whether it can be extinguished before it’s too late. The most likely answer is: No, it cannot be extinguished, not because it is impossible but rather because there is no coordinated worldwide plan to do so. 

After all, it’s underwater where nobody sees, and statistics about the status of ocean fishing stock are suspect and subject to considerable conjecture and easily criticized.

Where is a credible world coordinated plan to sustain ocean ecosystems? Where is a credible world coordinated Marshall Plan-type of concerted effort to combat global warming with the funding in place and the wherewithal to make a difference? These do not exist in the face of abundant factual evidence of a planet that’s screaming “help me!”

(To be continued)

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com. 

Source: CounterPunch