Executive Summary for July 7th

In this weekly roundup, we review the latest ocean news as the U.N. declines to put the Great Barrier Reef on an “in-danger” list, climate scientists find that the ocean is absorbing less carbon as waters warm, and the U.K. moves to exit from a European fisheries treaty.

Published on July 7, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

U.N.: Great Barrier Reef Not Endangered

UNESCO voted on July 5 to keep the iconic Great Barrier Reef off the “in-danger” list of World Heritage sites, despite ongoing threats from climate change and back-to-back bleaching events that have devastated two-thirds of the reef over the past two years.

The Australian government had lobbied hard to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the list, arguing that a pledge to spend nearly $1 billion on its “Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan” would help restore the reef to health.

“Since the Plan’s release, legislation has been passed to ban sea-based disposal of capital dredge material in the property, to restrict new port development within current port limits, and to prohibit major capital dredging for port facilities outside the four major priority areas,” UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee stated in a draft report of its decision. “Progress is also being made towards improving monitoring and compliance with the regulated standards in relation to agricultural runoff, which is the major cause of poor water quality.”

Nevertheless, the committee warned that the Great Barrier Reef remains highly vulnerable from warming ocean temperatures. “It is recommended that the committee express its serious concern at the coral bleaching and mortality that occurred in 2016 and at the second event underway in early 2017,” the report states. “While the long-term effects of these events cannot be fully evaluated yet, their scale serves to underline the severity of the threat to the property from climate change. At the site level, there is a need to consider how these mass bleaching events influence the effectiveness” of the Reef 2050 plan.

Don’t Bank on the Ocean to Store Carbon

MIT climate scientists have determined that the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the deep ocean has declined by an estimated 1.5 percent over the past 30 years as surface temperatures have risen.

That’s the equivalent of about 100 million tons of carbon, or the annual CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom, according to the study published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography Letters.

The finding is significant because the ocean absorbs half the carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, helping blunt the impact of climate change. Billions of microscopic plankton, which form the base of the ocean food chain, absorb carbon dioxide from surface waters as part of photosynthesis. When plankton die, they sink to the deep ocean where the carbon they’ve absorbed remains stored.

The MIT researchers, along with a scientist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that as ocean temperatures have warmed, fewer plankton are sinking, leaving the carbon on the surface where it can be re-absorbed into the atmosphere.

Fishexit

The British government announced it would withdraw from a 53-year-old agreement that allows six European countries to fish in each other’s coastal waters.

“We will be saying we’re taking back control,” U.K. environment secretary Michael Gove told the BBCaccording to the Guardian.

The treaty was signed in 1964 by Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the U.K. It’ll take two years for the withdrawal to be completed.

“When we leave the European Union, we will become an independent political state, and that means that we can then extend control of our waters up to 200 miles or the median line between Britain and France, and Britain and Ireland,” said Gove.

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