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Marine Life May be on Brink of ‘Phase of Extinction’

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A panel convened at Oxford University has issued a strong statement about the condition of the world's oceans now and for the foreseeable future. As phrased on the home page of, their judgment is that "the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history."

Scientists associated with the conference, which was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), profess something like bewilderment at their shared conclusions. "We've sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we're seeing," said Alex Rogers, IPSO's scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University, as reported by, "and we've ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we're seeing changes that are happening faster than we'd thought, or in ways that we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years." Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a coral specialist from the University of Queensland in Australia, added that "the rate of change is vastly exceeding what we were expecting even a couple of years ago."

The conclusions are in agreement with those drawn by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and presented in mid-May.

The group has identified six harmful phenomena and practices:

Climate Change Rising sea temperatures affect the distribution of marine species, and wreak havoc on coral reefs, which are safe havens for countless marine species. Absorption of carbon dioxide is also causing ocean acidification, which may already be reducing the size and growth rates of some marine animals.

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Over-fishing Due to unsustainable fishing practices, fisheries can only deliver a fraction of what they could in the past, which in turn affects everything from seabirds to coral.

Habitat destruction In addition to the destruction of coral reefs through such practices as bottom trawling, we are also ruining habitats of sensitive sea animals by changing the water quality.

Extraction While headline-grabbing spills are an obvious way in which oil and gas extraction can harm the oceans, even disaster-free drilling releases toxic substances into the water, and acoustic methods of prospecting are harmful to aquatic life.

Pollution Release of sewage into the water promotes microbial activity, which drains the water of oxygen and can produce "dead zones" where there is little to no aquatic life. Heavy metals, plastics, oil and pesticides are also incredibly harmful to the ecosystem.

Alien species introduction Introduction of non-native species into a delicately balanced ecosystem, whether intentional or not, can cause major stress, even disaster.

The full Global State of the Ocean Report is not due to be released until 2012.