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Global Warming Adding to Pollution and Over-Harvesting Impacts on World's
Key Fishing Grounds, Says New UNEP--'In Dead Water'--Report
10th Special Session of UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial
Environment Forum, Monaco, 20-22 February
MONACO/NAIROBI, 22 February 2008---Climate change is emerging as the latest
threat to the world's dwindling fish stocks, a new report by the UN
Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests.
At least three quarters of the globe's key fishing grounds may become
seriously impacted by changes in circulation as a result of the ocean's
natural pumping systems fading and falling, it suggests.
These natural pumps, dotted at sites across the world including the Arctic
and the Mediterranean, bring nutrients to fisheries and keep them healthy
by flushing out wastes and pollution.
The impacts of rising emissions on the marine world are unlikely to end
there. Higher sea surface temperatures over the coming decades threaten to
bleach and kill up to 80 per cent of the globe's coral reefs---major tourist
attractions, natural sea defences and also nurseries for fish.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern that carbon dioxide emissions will
increase the acidity of seas and oceans. This, in turn, may impact calcium
and shell-forming marine life including corals but also tiny ones such as
planktonic organisms at the base of the food chain.
The findings come in a new rapid response report entitled "In Dead Water"
which has for the first time mapped the multiple impacts of pollution,
alien infestations, over-exploitation and climate change on the seas and
This 10-15 per cent of the oceans is far higher than had previously been
supposed and is "concurrent with today's most important fishing grounds",
including the estimated 7.5 per cent deemed to be the most economically
valuable fishing areas of the world, it adds.
It is the largest gathering of Environment Ministers since the UN Climate
Convention Conference in Indonesia just over two months ago where
Governments agreed to the Bali Road Map aimed at delivering a deep and
decisive climate regime for post-2012.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director,
"Climate change threatens coastal infrastructure, food and water supplies
and the health of people across the world. It is clear from this report and
others that it will add significantly to pressures on fish stocks. This is
as much a development and economic issue as it is an environmental one.
Millions of people including many in developing countries derive their
livelihoods from fishing while around 2.6 billion people get their protein
from seafood", he said.
In Dead Water Key Findings
* Half the world's catch is caught along continental shelves in an area of
less than 7.5 per cent of the globe's seas and oceans.
* An area of 10-15 per cent of the world's seas and oceans cover most of
the commercial fishing grounds.
* 80 to 100 per cent of the world's coral reefs may suffer annual bleaching
events by 2080 under global warming scenarios.
* Those at particular risk are in the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean,
the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and in the Caribbean
* Over 90 per cent of the world's temperate and tropical coasts will be
heavily impacted by 2050. Over 80 per cent of marine pollution comes from
the land. Marine areas at particular risk of increased pollution are
South-east and East Asia.
* Increasing concentrations of C02 in the atmosphere are likely to be
mirrored by increasing acidification of the marine environment.
* Increasing acidification may reduce the availability of calcium
carbonates in sea water, including a key one known as aragonite which is
used by a variety of organisms for shell-building.
* Cold-water and deep water corals could be affected by acidification by
2050 and shell-building organisms throughout the Southern Ocean and into
the sub-Arctic Pacific Ocean by 2100.
* Climate change may slow down the ocean thermohaline circulation and thus
the continental shelf "flushing and cleaning" mechanisms, known as "dense
shelf water cascading", over the next 100 years. These processes are
crucial to water quality and nutrient cycling and deep water production in
at least 75 per cent of the world's major fishing grounds.
* Dead zones, areas of de-oxygenated water, are increasing as a result of
pollution from urban and agriculture areas. There are an estimated 200
temporary or permanent dead zones up from around 150 in 2003.
* Up to 80 per cent of the world's primary fish catch species are exploited
beyond or close to their harvesting capacity. Advances in technology,
alongside subsidies, means the world's fishing capacity is 2.5 times bigger
that that needed to sustainably harvest fisheries.
* Bottom trawling is among the most damaging and unsustainable fishing
practices at the scales often seen today
* Alien invasive species, which can out-compete and dislodge native ones,
are increasingly associated with the polluted, over-harvested and damaged
fishing grounds. The report shows that the concentration of "aliens"
matches with some precision the world's major shipping routes.
Dr. Christian Nellemann, who headed up the rapid response team that
compiled the report, said: "We are already seeing evidence from a number of
studies that increasing sea temperatures are causing changes in the
distribution of marine life."
Some of these changes are being found from the Continuous Plankton Recorder
survey of the North-east Atlantic.
Warmer water copepod species or crustaceans have moved northward by around
1,000km during the later half of the 20th century, with the patterns
continuing into the 21st century.
"Further evidence of this warming signal is seen in the appearance of a
Pacific planktonic plant in the North-west Atlantic for the first time in
800,000 years by transfer across the top of Canada due to the rapid melting
of the Arctic in 1998", said Dr. Nellemann. "We are getting more and more
alarming signals of dramatic changes in the oceans. It is like turning a
big tanker around. Our ability to change course and reduce emissions in the
near future will be paramount to success."
The link between healthy and productive fishing grounds and ocean
circulation or "dense shelf water cascading" is in some ways only now
Three years ago the Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of European
Seas, of which UNEP is part, documented such a phenomenon in the Gulf of
Lions in the north-western Mediterranean.
A quantity of water equal to two years-worth of the river discharge from
all rivers flowing into the Mediterranean is, in four months, transported
from the Gulf of Lions to the deep western Mediterranean via the Cap de
It has a critical impact on the population of the heavily harvested deep
sea shrimp Aristeus antennatus, the crevette rouge, by bringing food that
in turn triggers a sharp increase in young shrimp resulting in plentiful
catches three to five years after the "cascading" event.
"Imagine what will happen if climate change slows down or stops these
natural food transport and 'flushing' effects in waters that are often
already polluted, heavily fished, damaged and stressed", said Dr.
Nellemann. "We are gambling with our food supply."
Dr. Stefan Hain, of UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said it
was critical that existing stresses were also addressed in order to
conserve fish stocks and coral reefs in a climate constrained world.
He said there was growing evidence that coral reefs recover from bleaching
better in cleaner, less polluted waters.
Dr. Hain cited monitoring of corals around the main Seychelles island of
Mahé which were among corals world-wide that suffered from the high sea
surface temperatures of the late 1990s. Here coral reef recovery rates have
varied between 5 to 70 per cent.
"Coral reefs recovering faster are generally those living in marine
protected areas and coastal waters where the levels of pollution, dredging
and other kinds of human-induced disturbance are considered low", he said.
Notes to Editors
The report "In Dead Water: Merging of climate change with pollution,
over-harvest, and infestations in the world's fishing grounds" can be
accessed at www.grida.no, at www.unep.org or www.globio.info, including
high- and low-resolution graphics for free use in publications.
The 10th Special Session of UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial
Environment Forum is taking place between 20 and 22 February in Monaco; see
The theme is Globalization and the Environment--Mobilizing Finance to Meet
the Climate Challenge.
The host country Monaco's web site is available at: