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Killing Our Oceans

MOSS LANDING, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Seventy-one percent of the earth's surface is covered with water. Fifty percent of all of life on earth is found in the ocean. But their home may be in danger. Dead zones are appearing and spreading around the globe.

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A deserted marina and fishing boats tied up with no place to go … fishermen who no longer catch enough to make ends meet.

"All the time, things are changing, " fisherman Todd Fraser told Ivanhoe.

"You don't have to live by the coast to worry about what's happening to the ocean," environmentalist Sean Van Sommeran said.

Louie Morelli has worked on the water for as long as he can remember.

"I love being on the water," Morelli said. "I love everything about it."

Morelli says things are changing.

"It's slowly depleting, especially salmon," Morelli said.

One reason: ocean dead zones.

"Where you used to see abundant marine life, today you don't," Peter Brewer, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif., explained. "It's typically regions of the ocean with too little oxygen or too much carbon dioxide."

This anoxic water with little or no oxygen forces marine life to move to oxygen-rich waters to survive. There is a dead zone off the coast of Oregon and another off of Louisiana. They represent two of 400 dead zones around the world. Brewer believes these zones will expand.

"When you combine temp, oxygen and CO2 you get a messy pick," Brewer said.

But what is the cause of these dead zones? On the ocean surface, phytoplankton take in CO2 and give off oxygen. When they die, they sink to the ocean bottom where bacteria breaks them down by taking in oxygen and giving off CO2. Increasing areas of phytoplankton from fertilizers that have run off into the ocean is also creating more CO2.

"It's going to take thousands of years to reverse that," Brewer said. "Those changes are largely irreversible."

That makes earning a living from the ocean harder and harder each year and there seems to be little help on the way.

One-third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the world's oceans. Even if we reverse those trends now, the dead zones off the northwest coast may be impossible to reverse because of the changing climate and increase in pollution.

The American Geophysical Union contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Peter Brewer
Senior Scientist
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Moss Landing, CA 95039
(831) 775-1706

Peter Weiss
American Geophysical Union
Washington, DC 20009-1277
(800) 966-2481

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