The Sixth Mass Extinction: A Dire Crisis for Marine Life
The Earth is currently witnessing a catastrophic event that threatens the very existence of numerous species— the sixth mass extinction. While the previous mass extinctions were primarily driven by natural causes, the current crisis is largely attributed to human activities. In particular, marine life is facing an unprecedented threat due to factors such as habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, overfishing, and ocean acidification.
Marine life encompasses a diverse array of species, from tiny plankton to majestic whales, coral reefs, and vibrant ecosystems. However, the rapid rate of species loss in our oceans is staggering. According to research, the current extinction rate is estimated to be 1,000 times higher than the natural background rate. Approximately one-third of marine species are now threatened with extinction. This profound loss of biodiversity is disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems, leading to profound consequences for our planet.
- Habitat Destruction: The destruction of critical habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds is one of the leading causes of marine species decline. Coastal development, destructive fishing practices, and pollution are destroying these vital ecosystems, leaving countless species without a home.
- Climate Change: Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are directly linked to human-induced climate change. Coral bleaching events, caused by warmer waters, are devastating reefs around the world. Additionally, altered ocean chemistry due to increased carbon dioxide absorption is negatively impacting the ability of marine organisms to build shells and skeletons.
- Pollution: Pollution from various sources, including plastics, chemical runoff, oil spills, and heavy metals, is contaminating marine habitats. These pollutants accumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, leading to long-term health issues and reproductive problems.
- Overfishing: Unsustainable fishing practices, including overfishing and destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling, are depleting fish populations and disrupting marine food webs. As top predators decline, the entire ecosystem is thrown off balance.
Consequences of Marine Extinction
The loss of marine species has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the oceans. Here are a few key impacts:
- Disrupted Ecosystems: Each species plays a unique role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. The removal of a species can have cascading effects, leading to imbalances in predator-prey relationships, nutrient cycling, and overall ecosystem stability.
- Loss of Biodiversity: The extinction of marine species decreases the planet's overall biodiversity. This loss reduces the resilience of ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to further disturbances and less able to provide essential ecosystem services.
- Economic Impact: The marine environment is crucial for the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, particularly those in coastal communities who rely on fishing and tourism. The decline of marine species can result in the collapse of fisheries, loss of jobs, and reduced tourism revenue.
- Food Security: Millions of people depend on marine resources as their primary source of protein. The decline in fish populations threatens food security, particularly in developing countries that rely heavily on fish as a staple food.
The sixth mass extinction poses a severe threat to marine life, and its consequences reverberate throughout the planet. Urgent and collective action is needed to halt the loss of marine species, protect critical habitats, and mitigate the factors driving their decline. By recognizing the value of marine ecosystems and embracing sustainable practices, we can strive to restore balance to our oceans and safeguard the extraordinary diversity of marine life for future generations.
Yesterday evening, Extinction Rebellion Boston climate activists gathered for a procession on Revere Beach in Revere, Massachusetts to celebrate the ocean's biodiversity, and to mourn the loss of marine life to the sixth mass extinction..... (continued below photos)
By Extinction Rebellion Boston | July 8, 2023
On Friday July 7, twelve members of Extinction Rebellion Boston gathered together with local residents on Revere Beach to mourn the loss of our marine species. Dressed in funeral attire and costumed as "ocean people," the group walked slowly through the crowds of summer revelers, carrying artistic fish puppets. Shortly before the march began, one activist delivered a "eulogy for the ocean" for the assembled crowd, including phrases like "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of our marine species" and "We need our leaders to take action now. Life on this earth began in the ocean, we have these waters to thank for our existence, and our health as humans and as a planet lies in our oceans." The funeral procession continued until the mourners reached the shore across from the pedestrian bridge, pausing every few moments to pay honors to extinct and endangered marine animals. Then shared a moment of silence for the ocean life that has been lost at the hands of humanity's misuse of resources.
When asked why they participated in the beach funeral to protest biodiversity loss, local climate activist Jorma McSwiggan responded, "I love to grill and take my pets out in the yard, but I can't anymore because of the rat poison that neighbors put out. They do this because they are afraid their families will get bit by rodents. I would argue that we don't have a rat problem at all. We have a falcon, hawk, grackle, and coyote shortage. We have that shortage because we have a human infestation. When there is a disruption in biodiversity, it ripples out and spreads in ways that can be impossible for the average person to predict, but can have a direct impact on day-to-day life." McSwiggan continued, "Our oceans are strong and beautiful, but they can only take so much and one by one marine species are dying out. We need our leaders to take action now. Life on this earth began in the ocean, we have these waters to thank for our existence, and our health as humans and as a planet lies in our oceans. At this Beach Funeral, we honor the water, the life it has given us, and the life we have taken away."
Background for this demonstration:
In 1896, the Revere Beach shoreline became the first public beach in the nation, meaning that 1896 marks the year that Westerners transformed "land" into "property." In the decades leading up to this, train tracks were laid directly on the shoreline, devastating the habitats of native creatures. We have recently moved on as a culture from such visibly invasive infrastructure, but the subsequent and ongoing impact of climate change due to human activity and reliance on fossil fuels persists; with arctic temperatures now reaching 100 degrees, rising waters will take back the the beach.
Without systemic changes to global infrastructure, our ocean life is on the brink of extinction. Increased water temperatures have led to coral bleaching and made conditions unlivable for many species. Both rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and rising water temperatures in the ocean make a deadly combination by increasing ocean acidity, destroying ecosystems that depend on our coral reefs.
Wealthy nations have treated these sacred waters as a waste management system, moving our trash out of sight while ignoring the immediate and long-term harms that debris and plastics sent far away have on the health of marine species and ultimately ourselves as humans. In a single year, 10 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, and 100,000 marine animals die due to entanglement in plastic debris. Last year, plastic particles were newly found in antarctic snow and in our bloodstreams. Too often what we throw away is sent to people in other countries to take care of - we’ve been told to reduce, recycle, and reuse, only to discover that people in places like Malaysia are left to clean up the mess that our government outsources to them. There is no excuse for this crime on the hands of our nation’s leaders.
Reliance on fossil fuels continues to directly harm marine species. Many may remember the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which lasted for 87 days before it was finally capped. Oil from that spill remains in estuaries and deep waters, and animals that survived are struggling to rebound. Yet our government pushes forward with more drilling, more pipelines, and almost always in marginalized communities at the expense of the poor and non-white.
Extinction Rebellion's Demands for the Massachusetts Government
Leaders must declare a climate and ecological emergency. We demand to protect at least 30% of land and ocean by 2030 on a national and on the state level. The global "30x30" target protects areas from drilling, logging, and other types of extraction to protect habitat for species threatened by extinction.
On the national level, President Biden is publicly claiming to commit to the "30x30" pledge, an effort by the global community to conserve 30% of terrestrial and marine habitat by 2030. Yet with the oil and gas drilling permits from his first year in office outpacing Trump's first year by 34% and his administration's approval this March of the Willow Project to allow new oil drilling in Alaska, these commitments are clearly being made in name only. In addition, many of his established 30x30 land protections are focused on the western US, which means that Governor Healey needs to implement a 30x30 commitment for the Commonwealth rather than waiting for national support. In Massachusetts, only about 5% of the land and 1.5% of the ocean are protected from logging and mining, a far cry from the 30% nationwide pledge.
Extinction Rebellion urges both President Biden and Governor Healey to put a stop to logging and offshore drilling and to hold companies accountable for the mess they're causing. The public must mobilize to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable and push for an end to the continuous development of yet more oil and gas infrastructure right here in Massachusetts. Constituents can call their state representatives to commit to 30x30, protest local habitat loss in their own area, and join Extinction Rebellion or any climate-focused group to directly push back against inaction.
Extinction Rebellion Boston is an autonomous chapter of the international grassroots movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), which started in London in 2018. The purpose of XR is to tell the truth about how dire the ecological and climate crisis is and spark immediate action in order to prevent complete climate and ecological collapse. We aim to mobilize people around the world to utilize nonviolent direct action to demand that governments take radical action to avert societal collapse caused by widespread climate and ecological disaster, and to protect frontline communities, biodiversity, and the natural world. This movement is non-political and unites all of humanity behind a singular goal of a just and livable future. Learn more at XRBOSTON.ORG