Atlantic pollution falls, acidity up

Efforts to clean up and protect the North East Atlantic have made some progress since 2000 but new threats are looming such as ocean acidification linked to climate change, a study said on Thursday.

The report, by the OSPAR Commission that groups 15 European nations and covers an area from the North Pole to the Azores, said there had been advances in reducing oil spills, discharges from nuclear installations and some hazardous wastes.

But many goals set in 2000 such as stopping a loss of biological diversity and over-fishing had not been met, according to the report, presented to environment ministers from the 15 nations in Bergen, Norway.

“There are clear signs of improvement in the North-East Atlantic but the loss of biodiversity has not yet been halted, with fishing and other human activities needing careful management,” it said.

“Ocean acidification and the emerging impacts of climate change cause serious concern,” it added. Acidification undermines the ability of creatures such as shellfish, crabs or lobsters to build their protective shells.

“There are likely to be ecosystem-wide effects (from acidification) by 2050, perhaps even in the coming decade in the Arctic,” it said. The U.N. panel of climate scientists blames acidification on carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, absorbed into the sea from the atmosphere.

WARMER WATERS

The report said the impacts of climate change were becoming more apparent: water in the North Sea had warmed by between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius (1.8-3.6 F) since 1985 and warm water plankton and some fish stocks were moving northwards.

“This could affect entire ecosystems,” it said. The ministers were due to adopt new goals at a meeting on Friday, including for new, large protected areas in the Atlantic.

The report said that oil discharges had fallen by 20 percent on average in the OSPAR region since 2000, with most countries meeting a target to cut them by 15 percent.

“Pollution from oil and gas production has fallen, but continued monitoring is essential as the industry changes and develops,” it said.

Separately, the 15 nations were set to promise to review rules for oil permits in extreme environments after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill, stopping short of a moratorium urged by environmentalists.

“It’s been watered down completely,” said Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace, referring to a call by Germany for a “moratorium on certain new oil exploration activities.”

The oceans report said overfishing imperiled many commercial stocks, species from whales to tiny seahorses were under threat, and damaging blooms of algae were still caused by fertilizer runoffs from the land.

And it said the seas were coming under pressure from other human uses, such as offshore wind turbines.

“Offshore renewable energy, mineral extraction, shipping, mariculture, and coastal defense reinforcement are making increasing demands on marine space and resources, especially in the North Sea and Celtic Seas,” it said.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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