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To close out 2014, Planet Experts is doing a roundup of the most important environmental stories that we covered this year. This article features some of the biggest news to come out of the ocean. For more environmental roundups, check out ‘The Top 10 Solar Stories of 2014,’ ‘The 10 Most Depressing Climate Change Stories of 2014‘ and ‘The 10 Most Uplifting Environmental Stories of 2014.’

We learned many things about the ocean this year. Unfortunately, most of them are things we’ve learned before: Sea levels are rising, overfishing is destroying the seafood market and plastic is everywhere.

Source: Global Ocean Commission Source: Global Ocean Commission

Most of the new things we learned were even less appetizing…

10) One-Third of American Seafood Is Mislabeled or Fraudulent

SushiDNA testing conducted by Oceana, an international conservation organization, found that seafood was mislabeled 33 percent of the time in 1,200 seafood samples taken from over 600 retail outlets in 21 states. Moreover, less than one percent of all imported seafood is actually being tested for fraud. In Southern California alone, 52 percent of seafood was found to be mislabeled. Read More…

9) Cruise Liners Are Dumping Their Untreated Waste Into the Ocean

According to a report from Friends of the Earth, more than a billion gallons of sewage, much of it raw or barely treated, is dumped into the ocean annually from cruise ships. In addition to the sewage, roughly eight billion gallons of “greywater,” water from sinks and showers, is also flushed out to sea. Read More…

8) But Illegally Dumping Iron in the Pacific May Have Been a Great Idea?

salmonIn one of the three positive stories on this list, a geoengineering stunt has been linked to a boom in Alaska’s salmon fishery. In July 2012, California businessman Russ George made headlines around the world when he dumped 120 tons of iron sulfide over a 15,000 square mile patch of the Pacific Ocean. George intended to trigger a massive algae bloom in the Pacific Northwest. Though the act was extremely illegal under both Canadian and UN law, the next year saw the largest run of Pink Salmon in Alaskan history. Read More…

7) The U.S. Created the Largest Marine Protected Area in the World

In September, the White House announced it would increase the size of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by sixfold. The marine protected area (MPA) will now measure nearly 490,000 square miles. That’s three times larger than the state of California. Read More…

6) The Oceans Are Acidifying at the Fastest Rate in 300 Million Years

Diatoms Under MicroscopeRising carbon emissions are having a direct effect on the ocean, which absorbs over 25 percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the ocean is absorbing so much CO2 that the pH level of surface water has dropped from 8.18 to 8.07. Numerically, it doesn’t seem like much, but researchers say this change is unprecedented in the last 300 million years. Moreover, seawater is becoming so acidic that it is losing its ability to absorb more CO2, and the ocean is now absorbing 70 percent of the carbon it absorbed in 1750. Read More…

5) Japan Proposed a 50 Percent Cut in Its Bluefin Tuna Catch

tunaIn a surprising shift in domestic fishing policy, Japanese government officials announced in August that they would propose a 50 percent reduction in bluefin tuna catches. The decision was influenced by a 2013 international assessment that found stocks of bluefin tuna have fallen 96 percent from previous levels and that the species is on the verge of collapse. “Bluefin tuna is virtually the main resource in waters around Japan,” said Masanori Miyahara, president of Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency, during a meeting with tuna fishermen in Tokyo. “Japan must take the lead in protecting that resource.” Read More…

4) Arctic and Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Expected

glaciermeltThere were several stories on glacial melt that made the news this year, and none of them were optimistic. In September, NASA reported that Arctic sea ice has diminished by about 2.8 percent per decade and has grown smaller every season. In 2007, the ice contracted from 2.16 million square miles to 1.66 million square miles, a chunk equivalent to the combined areas of Alaska and Texas. Satellite maps have revealed that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an “unprecedented rate.” Greenland’s receding volume is partially due to its abundance of black ice, a result of carbon pollution, which is causing it to absorb more sunlight and melt faster. Antarctica, meanwhile, has lost so much ice in the last three years that the Earth’s gravity has been altered. How much ice exactly? Between 2009 and 2012, just three glaciers lost 204 billion tons of ice per year. Finally, a December study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters analyzed 21 years of Antarctic data and found that West Antarctica is losing ice faster than anywhere on the planet. Over the last two decades, an average of 91.5 billion tons of ice has vanished from Antarctica every year.

3) Sea Level Rise Is Already Affecting the Planet

The Nonouti Atoll, a district of Kiribati

This news is closely tied to the melting at the poles, but so many communities and countries have been affected by rising tides that it deserves its own slot. The lack of sea ice has changed the behavior of both walruses and polar bears and is leading to faster sea level rise than scientists previously estimated. In the U.S., experts say that rising seas and accompanying storm surges could cost the country over $1 trillion in damages. And damage is already being done. In Louisiana, 2,000 square miles of coastline is now underwater. In Miami, the ocean has risen 10 inches since the 1800s and, by 2100, experts say most of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne and Virginia Key will be underwater. In Kiribati, an island nation located in the tropical Pacific, the government is planning to relocate the entire population after its island disappears in 30 years.

2) 5 Gyres Released the First Global Estimate of Ocean Plastic Pollution
Plastic bottles (Source: Creative Commons)

In December, the 5 Gyres Institute published a landmark paper that presents the first-ever global estimate of plastic ocean pollution. It is the culmination of six years of data gathered from 24 expeditions undertaken by researchers throughout the world and over 50,000 nautical miles. They calculate that there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles floating in the ocean’s surface layer, with a collective weight of about 269,000 tons. (Following the publication, Planet Experts conducted an exclusive interview with the American Chemistry Council about plastic mitigation solutions.)  Read More…

1) The Asian Fishing Industry Is Linked to Human Slavery

netsSeveral studies have emerged linking human trafficking to the Asian fishing industry. New Zealand journalist Michael Field has been investigating the disturbing practice for several years and recently published a book entitled The Catch: How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Ocean. Last year, the Guardian conducted its own six-month investigation into the industry’s slave ships. Journalists “established that large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of prawns (commonly called shrimp in the U.S.) sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco.” Read More…

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4 Responses

  1. Mariusz says:

    It’s so sad
    We are destroying all nature around

  2. Jayant Dofey says:

    Yes, it is true and pathetic also. Still we are not cutting down our needs which are not essential for human life. If we are not then we must face and extinct ourself in the mad race of civilization.
    Save the nature/Ocean for our own survival otherwise we will finish and still ocenas will be there and nature will take its own course to clean up the polluted oceans in million years..
    I urge to all humans not to kill Humans ..by such devasting acts..

    Jay Univerese..

  3. Feeling sad to see such disaster happened in our prime livelihood source.
    Some issues are left among the mentioned by you for which seafood industry itself responsible.
    1. Dumping of domestic waste in sea as well as riverine water.
    2. Trafficking of large cargo ship and big vessels in all over seas.
    3. Direct Dumping of untreated seafood industry waste.
    4. Direct Dumping of aquaculture waste which contain antibiotics and other harmfully chemicals

  4. MB-Y says:

    Well, well, quite a mixture of info, some OK, some exaggerated, some understated, and some just not quite accurate. Notwithstanding, I agree that there’s a need to rise environmental awareness.

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