Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction – The Atlantic

The oceans have endured a similar transformation in only the past few decades as the industrial might developed during World War II has been trained on the seas. Each year fishing trawlers plow an area of seafloor twice the size of the continental United States, obliterating the benthos. Gardens of corals and sponges hosting colorful sea life are reduced to furrowed, lifeless plains. What these trawlers have to show for all this destruction is the removal of up to 90 percent of all large ocean predators since 1950, including familiar staples of the dinner plate like cod, halibut, grouper, tuna, swordfish, marlin, and sharks. As just one slice of that devastation, 270,000 sharks are killed every single day, mostly for their tasteless fins, which end up as status symbol garnishes in the bowls of Chinese corporate power lunches. And today, even as fishing pressure is escalating, even as the number of fishing boats increases, even as industrial trawlers abandon their exhausted traditional fishing grounds to chase down ever more remote fish stocks with ever more sophisticated fish-finding technology, global fish catch is flatlining.

Closer to shore, coral reefs, the wellspring of the ocean’s biodiversity, have declined in extent by as much as a third since only the 1980s. These paradises are plagued by overfishing, pollution, and invaders, but 500 million people, many of them poor and living in the developing world, rely on them for food, storm protection, and jobs. As in the handful of reef collapses of the geological past, modern reefs are expected to collapse from warming and ocean acidification by the end of the century, and possibly much sooner. During record-breaking temperatures in 1997–1998, 15 percent of the world’s reefs died. In the past few months a similar wave of death struck the Great Barrier Reef. It won’t be the last.