Do Australia’s Oceans Need Blankets?

By | August 20, 2012 at 10:31 am | No comments

Photo by Todd Lipker via flickr


Ove Heogh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute released a paper in Nature Climate Change on Monday, discussing an undeniable concept – our oceans are in danger.

Ocean acidification (i.e., the rising of ocean temperatures and acidity) has the ability to cause species range shifts and extinctions – a problem that will undeniably affect how we eat and live on a daily basis. Generally, science agrees with the idea that carbon dioxide emissions, when put into our oceans, will negatively alter the way the oceans currently operate.

Enter Heogh-Guldberg, who states that we need to do more to protect our oceans. With carbon dioxide emissions continuing to pollute our waters, the impacts could be insurmountable – unless we put effective plans in place to mitigate the effects.

This Australian scientist calls for drastic measures. Shade cloths (think of a big pool cover) have the ability to protect corals from UV radiation and heat stress. Electrical currents can also stimulate growth of corals, and genetic engineering can help increase coral tolerance to heat and acidity. In combination, these could be quite effective in reducing the impacts of ocean acidification.

His suggestions stem from his research, combined with the work of Environment Australia (an official government branch), which has already set a plan for ocean protection. The plan is centered in ecosystem-based management, focusing on key ecological concepts that can greatly assist our oceans. With precautionary approaches that carry across various levels of the ecosystem, the plan is holistic and rather robust.

The plan does not include Hoegh-Guldberg’s rather extreme conservation strategies, which is no big surprise. The Australian government documents outline notions of sustainable development – taking the economics of marine transportation, tourism, and fisheries into account. All plans aim to reduce human impacts on our oceans, but Hoegh-Guldberg argues that it isn’t enough.

Here, we’re faced with a tough call – the Australian government is setting goals around the notion of sustainability, whereas Hoegh-Guldberg has a more biocentric approach to our oceans. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that science will win out in this situation – the other dimensions of this problem are far too complex to dismiss. Although the current plans need clearer goals and benchmarks to truly create effective change, I don’t see ocean blankets and electrical currents coming into effect anytime soon.

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