Aquatic Biodiversity Loss and Unsustainability in the Food Industry

**heads up: this rough draft is in need of a lot of revising… I found myself in a bit of a jam this week and I am aware that this is not my best work! Final draft will be much better!

This week discussed the immense loss of aquatic biodiversity in recent years, and the ecological/anthropogenic consequences of a damaged aquatic ecosystem. The textbook relates these damages to human activity, and offers ways governments can work to alleviate these issues. Additionally, this week covered the connections between food production and the environment. These issues, though seemingly unrelated, both demonstrate the shocking and dangerous relationship between human activities and the health of the environment. We must act soon to mitigate the effects of human activity on aquatic biodiversity and in the food production industry in order to ensure a sustainable future.

Firstly, aquatic ecosystems are extremely crucial to humans and the environment. Tourism, as well as about 300 million jobs, directly depend on the oceans. About half of the world depends on the ocean for a large amount of their protein and nutrient intake. Oceans produce 50-70% of the oxygen we breathe, and help Natural barriers such as “coral reefs, mangrove forests, and sea-grass beds reduce the impacts on land from tsunamis and major storms” (Miller 2018, 233). Oceans and other aquatic environments are key to the balance of our world, so too much damage to these ecosystems is extremely dangerous.

Human activity has led to the “loss and degradation of aquatic habitat” (Miller 234). Habitat loss and degradation is the most prominent threat to both terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Also, “sea-bottom habitats are being degraded and destroyed by impacts from dredging operations and trawler fishing boats” (Miller 2018, 234). In freshwater ecosystems, humans have caused habitat loss through the construction of dams and the removal of water for irrigation and city water supplies.

The coral reefs demonstrate this habitat damage and its ecological consequences, as they have been destroyed due to “coastal development, overfishing, pollution, warmer ocean water, and ocean acidification” (Miller 2018, 234). Coral reefs are home to about a fourth of Earth’s marine fish species, meaning their destruction results in the death or displacement of those species. This has serious ramifications not only on the environment, but on human populations as well. As many communities rely on the wildlife which inhabits coral reefs as food (specifically protein), the loss of coral reefs is likely to worsen the global hunger crisis. With each past mass extinction, studies show that it has taken coral reefs 4 million to 10 million years to recuperate. This means that “if we have triggered a sixth mass extinction as some scientists say, many of the coral species that are currently centers of marine biodiversity are likely to disappear again for millions of years” (Miller 2018, 234).

Fig 1, Dead Coral Reef

A major issue regarding humans’ impact on marine life is ocean acidification. Oceans absorb a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the molecule is absorbed, CO2 mixes with water to create carbonic acid. With excess amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels, the ocean becomes more acidic as it cannot manage the oversaturation of carbon. This is a major issue because it leads to the shells and bones of certain species to become soft or even dissolve. The textbook highlights that “we can slow the rise of acidity levels in ocean waters by protecting and restoring mangrove forests, sea grasses, and coastal wetlands” (Miller 2018, 234). If we don’t act soon, aquatic food webs will be significantly altered.  

Overfishing is another severe issue which threatens marine life. Trawlers, long-lining, purse seine fishing, and drift nets are all methods of catching sea life which results in mass harvesting of fish as well as unintended creatures called bycatch. Bycatch often includes turtles, sharks, dolphins, etc., and leads to large amounts of unnecessary death. 

Sharks are a relevant example of unnecessary overfishing and hunting. Sharks are portrayed in the media as bloodthirsty monsters, but the reality is that people are only killed by sharks because we are mistaken as their other prey, which doesn’t happen very often. In fact, “you are much more likely to be killed by a falling coconut, than by a shark (Miller 2018, 239). People overlook this, however, and continue to hunt them mercilessly. They also harvested for their fins, which are deemed very valuable. However, “there is no reliable evidence that shark fins provide flavor or have any nutritional or medicinal value” (Miller 2018, 239). Shark meat is even considered dangerous because of the excess mercury and toxins that it could contain. Additionally, this practice of hunting sharks for their fins is cruel and barbaric, as sharks are thrown back into the water alive after their fins are removed, where they bleed to death or drown. Sharks are a keystone species in many ecosystems, so the ruthless human vendetta against them is extremely dangerous to the health of the environments and communities to which they are connected. 

The harmful effects of human activity on the environment can also be seen in humans’ unsustainable practices in food production. The past few years have seen a rapid increase in food production, as agriculture, ranching, and fishing industries have become more industrialized. For example, a tilling practice in which the topsoil is plowed and smoothed over “ has contributed to massive topsoil erosion worldwide” over several decades (Miller 2018, 261). However no-till farming requires no tilling, and has been established as a more sustainable way to farm. Additionally, energy use in food production is incredibly inefficient because of the heavy reliance on fossil fuels. 

Overfishing and unsustainable agriculture practices in general are also an issue regarding food security and the inequalities of food accessibility, as we need to find a way to healthily nourish our increasingly large population without depleting the planet. The textbook explains that “we live in a world where, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 815 million people face health problems because they do not get enough nutritious food to eat and another 2.1 billion people (up from 857 million in 1980) have health problems caused mostly by eating too much sugar, fat, and salt.” (Miller 2018, 264). This demonstrates the need to develop sustainable production practices that can reach a global scale. 

In conclusion, human activity has played an integral role in the endangerment of aquatic biodiversity, and has resulted in unsustainable food production practices. In order to ensure a future where our increasing population can be supported by the environment and can rely on a secure, nutritional food supply, we must act soon. In the words of ecologist Douglas J. McCauley and other scientists, “the oceans are facing a major extinction event.” but that “the impacts are accelerating but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.” (Miller 2018, 234). If we can learn to treat our aquatic ecosystems with more respect, and manage our food production more sustainably, we can better anticipate a healthy future of our species and the earth. 

Word Count: 1149

Question: How can we demonstrate the severity of declining aquatic biodiversity and the deteriorating health of aquatic ecosystems to people who don’t want to listen?

Bibliography:

Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage 

Learning, 2018.

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