PNCIMA Forum on Pacific Ocean to address uncertain future

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      On March 26, a two-day conference will get underway in Richmond with the goal of mapping a future for much of British Columbia’s coastal waters.

      Called the PNCIMA Forum (for Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area), the event will see 300 relevant stakeholders meet to begin to figure out how to manage B.C.’s waters in a time of both increasing human activity and environmental challenges.

      Bill Wareham, senior marine-conservation specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation, explained the need for such a meeting to the Straight.

      “If we lose our ocean ecosystems to a level where we can’t fish, we can’t harvest crabs, we don’t have oxygen production out of the ocean at a level that is contributing to the health of human beings on this planet, then it really underscores the path to the end,” he warned. “We hope to head that off.”

      Mel Kotyk, Pacific regional manager of oceans for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told the Straight that the plan for the forum is to balance economic requirements with environmental realities.

      “It’s very complicated and there is going to be a lot of discussion,” he said. “We do need economic prosperity, but we have to have healthy ecosystems in order to have economic prosperity. They are linked together.”

      Designed to deal with challenges, the PNCIMA Forum may be heading into even rougher waters than it expects.

      The Suzuki Foundation has recently intensified a campaign it calls Healthy Oceans. One poster for the initiative reads: “The health of our oceans is in danger. If the trend continues, there may be nothing left by 2048.”

      Wareham said that the advertisement alludes to recent research performed at Dalhousie University that found that at a global level, almost 90 percent of large fish in the ocean have already been fished.

      “But it’s not just related to fishing,” he continued. Pollution is a problem, development continues in key marine habitats, and now scientists are observing a “scary phenomenon” in oceans related to greenhouse-gas emissions, Wareham said.

      Kurt Grimm, associate professor of earth and ocean sciences at UBC, warned that oceans’ surface waters are becoming more acidic, to a point where marine life could be in danger.

      Simply put, he explained, oceans naturally act as a sponge for atmospheric CO2. But industrialized humanity is now spewing CO2 into the atmosphere at such an “unprecedented” rate that the oceans are sponging up the greenhouse gas faster than waters’ chemistry can reach equilibrium. The result is a “large perturbation” characterized by surface waters becoming more acidic.

      “And when you have a large perturbation in an ecosystem, the ultimate outcomes are very difficult, if not impossible to forecast,” Grimm added. “It’s like rolling the dice.”

      Ocean acidification has been tied to the expansion of so-called dead zones, where a lack of oxygen makes certain costal areas uninhabitable for higher life forms. A team of Danish researchers recently reported that if climate change continues unchecked, a dramatic expansion of dead zones could result.

      Wareham said that the Suzuki Foundation is well aware of rising acidic levels and warned that the impact on ecosystems could be “huge”. He claimed that scientists are already observing pH levels lower than what some marine organisms require to survive.

      Noting a direct relevance to human life, Wareham added: “Plankton in the ocean is the largest source of oxygen in our atmosphere, so if, through these events, we reduce the productivity of plankton or the ability of plankton to survive in the ocean, the house of cards starts to fall down.”

      Although acidification is not officially on the agenda for the PNCIMA Forum, Wareham said that he expects the issue to be raised and used as a rationale for a more precautionary approach and a push for greater conservation efforts.

      “If there is downward pressure on fish populations, you can’t just go out there and fish the same quota level for the next 20 years,” he argued. “You’re going to have to adjust that or maybe even stop fishing some years.”

      According to Wareham, what B.C.’s oceans need is a greater level of scientific observation that will prevent mistakes from being made.


      You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.

      Comments

      1 Comments

      ezekiel bones

      Mar 24, 2009 at 8:44pm

      Ocean acidification, habitat loss, depletion of our fossil water/aquifers, the die off of bees... yeah something about our society is not working.

      The trouble is, while environmentalists are great at understanding the fish and water and plant part of the issue, few of them are willing and able to offer solutions that help people and the environment.

      The masses will never support the environmental movement if the movement doesn't take their needs into account.

      However, the environmental movement isn't really to blame for their lack of solutions.

      The lack of solutions is rooted in the terms of reference of the debate. A total reorganization of society, and a radical redesign and overhaul of our laws, is pretty much always assumed to be out of the question.

      This incrementalism is not working. What we need is the courage to build a collective vision of a future that will work. A future that is more than just a patchwork of emergency solutions keeping humanity and culture and our biosphere on life-support.

      It can happen. We have the capacity to build it. Now we just need the courage to imagine it, and demand it.

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