- Pronunciation: \pə-ˈsi-fik\
- Function: adjective
- Etymology: Middle English pacifique, from Latin pacificus, from pac-, pax peace + -i- + -ficus -fic
- Date: circa 1548
1 a: tending to lessen conflict : conciliatory b: rejecting the use of force as an instrument of policy
2 a: having a soothing appearance or effect <mild pacific breezes> b: mild of temper : peaceable
All that being said, the Pacific Ocean may be veering away from its job description.
A new report just released by the Center for Ocean Solutions (in partnership with the IUCN and the Ocean Conservancy) showcases that the Pacific Ocean is, unfortunately, anything but. The report, entitled the Pacific Ocean Scientific Consensus Statement, was produced by a gathering of leading scientists from over 30 countries that drew on over 3,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications. This omnibus treatise is both a synopsis of the critical environmental status of the Pacific as well as a litany of potential steps that could be taken to address its myriad woes.
The report breaks the vast Pacific into sectors and analyzes them individually. This is an interesting and useful approach, as it helps to identify and pair particular countries (the Pacific borders nearly 50) with particular environmental issues. Each sector is afflicted by its own unique combination of offenders — overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, etc. The report does an admirable job of identifying the severity these negative influences and associating them with the actual issues at hand.
It’s not a pretty picture. The Pacific Ocean is in a great deal of trouble, and the situation is getting worse. For example, the northeast Pacific — the oceanic expanse that graces our coastline here in northern California, also extending north to Alaska and south to the Panama Canal — is one of the most devastated areas, due to overfishing and tremendous pollution problems. In fact, it is this area that is home to the notorious Pacific Gyre, aka the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — a quagmire of flotsam and jetsam that is now twice as large as the state of Texas.
The northwest Pacific comprises the seas around Japan, Korea, and the far eastern reaches of Russia, which are some of the most heavily exploited areas by the global fishing industry. These were at one time some of the most productive waters on the planet, especially the vibrant, nutrient-rich areas of coastal Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. There is a tremendous demand for seafood among the many coastal metropolises in this area of the world; overfishing has devastated many of the fish populations in the area and continues for the most part unabated. Chinese waters are particularly at risk due to high levels of waste, unchecked aquaculture, and coastal development.
The other areas of the Pacific also face significant challenges. Micronesia is struggling against overfishing and climate shift that is leading to unprecedented land loss, while its southern neighbor, Melanesia, is faced with land-based sedimentation that threatens to choke inshore habitat. The East Asian Seas around Indonesia and the Philippines are losing their coral reefs to destructive fishing methods (like dynamite and cyanide fishing) and unchecked pollution. Polynesia, potentially the least bedeviled of the identified sectors, is nevertheless under attack from coastal development, land reclamation projects, and other negative influences.
But it’s not all bad news. The report suggests a number of options to address these problems, and it’s this that really makes the document worth reading. These “Solutions” sections help to connect the dots and blaze trails through what would otherwise appear a hopeless morass of trouble and tragedy. Most specifically, the authors stress the importance of forward-thinking actions such as the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) and the creation of international legal schema to manage transient and migratory fish populations.
I highly suggest taking a look at the executive summary first, and then delving into the report itself. Please feel free to post your thoughts and comments here.