Tara’s Journal – Climate System: High Seas Emergency

© G.Bounaud / Fonds Tara

Article from new Tara’s 10th journal

Climate is regulated primarily by the Earth’s oceanic mass. And yet the mutations affecting the ocean are still not being taken sufficiently into consideration during climate talks. But voices calling for rapid change are making themselves heard.

To better understand how the ocean regulates our climate we first need to look at the fundamental role it plays in our survival. For a start, it regulates the Earth’s temperature by absorbing, storing and transporting, through marine currents, the heat of the sun and, through the greenhouse effect, 93% of the excess heat generated by human activity. As a result its influence is unquestionably a key factor in the evolution of our planet’s climate. And when you take into account its ability to absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2) that our activities also produce, it becomes clear that, in addition to being the world’s thermostat, it is also a massive carbon pump. While the oceans amount to seventy per cent of the Earth’s surface, they absorb a quarter of the CO2 humans discharge into the atmosphere every year and more than half of the oxygen we breathe.

“CO2 absorption engenders a change in the chemical make-up of the sea”

Moreover this increase in temperature means that the ocean’s water is expanding which, combined with the thaw of glaciers and continental ice, translates into a rise in sea levels (the GIEC, France’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, predicts a rise of between 26 and 82 cm by 2100). The absorption of CO2 engenders, for its part, a change in the chemical make-up of the sea: pH values decrease and the water becomes more acidic. When this happens scientists have observed a decrease in the number of carbonate ions that marine plants and animals use to grow skeletons, shells and other calcium-based structures. Imagine a world without familiar foodstuffs such as oysters, mussels and other molluscs and crustaceans…

We used to think the sea was infinite, but the fact is we have reached certain limits and we now need to change our view of the oceans.”

Romain Troublé

This latter point underlines the impact such threats have on the evolution of life on Earth. The strain our way of life is placing on marine ecosystems is increasing. Not only are the seas warmer and more acidic, they are also being depleted of oxygen. Earth’s great ocean is truly under pressure. So what of the consequences? We can expect marine diversity to weaken as organisms struggle to adapt their feeding habits, their development and organization. Eventually these changes will deplete ecosystems which means, in short, declining food resources for human populations. Is our lack of knowledge about these processes preventing us from coming to grips with the question of ocean sustainability? And when we put into the mix the effects of overfishing and pollution, the seriousness of the situation is only too apparent. The ocean can no longer provide and produce as it once did, and it’s a negative trend. Food safety is an emerging issue, in particular in the vulnerable populations of the South where fish is the main source of animal protein.

A Wake-Up Call for the Ocean

As for coral reefs, those oases of life whose environmental and economic value is estimated to be twenty-seven billion euros per year, they are beginning to disappear in various parts of the globe. Not only do they protect coastlines from erosion, they are also immensely important as tourist destinations… Research supported by Tara Expeditions contributes to raising awareness of the role the ocean plays at the heart of the climate system. In any case that’s the view of Romain Troublé in this period of debate and expectation surrounding COP21. Romain’s commitment draws on a thorough knowledge of marine environments and his experience as a sailor: “We’re overfishing certain species and yet we know absolutely nothing about eighty per cent of the marine biomass. Science, medicine, industry, energy production and pharmaceuticals are all sectors that could benefit from taking a sustainable approach to these unexplored resources.” But are we embarking on a lost cause? Not yet. On the contrary, in June 2014 Tara Expeditions and a handful of partners set up the Ocean & Climate Platform to press international decision-makers, countries, governments and large organizations on the issues facing the oceans. Since then more than sixty entities have joined the platform so that, today, its members include scientific research institutes, non-governmental organizations and leading members of civil society and the economic world.

The platform’s five key proposals call for: the strengthening of the ocean’s capacity to mitigate climate change through the creation of protected marine ecosystems that function as carbon sinks; more research into how the climate and the ocean interact; finance for coastal regions to encourage them to adopt sustainable solutions for marine and coastal biodiversity; and measures to encourage the development of innovative solutions in the sectors of energy, food and shipping… Similar to all ecosystems, the ocean is capable of adapting but the speed of change is too fast for certain species. Which is why it is important to highlight the notions of time, of protecting vulnerable zones and of resilience that the platform conveys through its policy recommendations and the Ocean’s Call for Climate.

Launched during World Oceans Day, a UN initiative held in Paris on 8 June 2015, the Ocean’s Call for Climate aims to mobilize and “call the general public to witness the grave and irreversible changes affecting the ocean”. It’s a question that continues to be absent from international climate talks. The aim is to increase the pressure on political decision-makers and major economic players on the eve of the United Nations’ twenty-first climate conference (COP21). And with the hope that, little by little, all the parties will get on board.

Anne-Sophie Novel

Tara’s Journal is available for free at Tara’s “Ocean & Climate” Pavilion


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- Tara, memer of the “Ocean & Climate” Platform

11 countries have signed the “Because the Ocean” declaration at Tara’s Pavilion