[X] CLOSEMAIN MENU

  • Archives

  • Categories

    • air pollution (2)
    • Announcements (588)
    • Antibiotic Resistance (32)
    • Antimicrobial (11)
    • Aquaculture (30)
    • Aquatic Organisms (27)
    • Bats (6)
    • Beneficials (43)
    • Biofuels (6)
    • Biological Control (27)
    • Biomonitoring (36)
    • Birds (18)
    • btomsfiolone (1)
    • Bug Bombs (2)
    • Canada (10)
    • Cannabis (27)
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (9)
    • Children (71)
    • Children/Schools (231)
    • cicadas (1)
    • Climate (12)
    • Climate Change (64)
    • Clover (1)
    • compost (2)
    • Congress (1)
    • contamination (122)
    • Disinfectants & Sanitizers (13)
    • Drift (4)
    • Drinking Water (3)
    • Ecosystem Services (4)
    • Emergency Exemption (2)
    • Environmental Justice (144)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (367)
    • Events (82)
    • Farm Bill (11)
    • Farmworkers (163)
    • Forestry (5)
    • Fracking (4)
    • Fungal Resistance (2)
    • Fungicides (15)
    • Goats (2)
    • Golf (15)
    • Greenhouse (1)
    • Groundwater (3)
    • Health care (32)
    • Herbicides (14)
    • Holidays (31)
    • Household Use (6)
    • Indigenous People (1)
    • Infectious Disease (2)
    • Integrated and Organic Pest Management (62)
    • Invasive Species (33)
    • Label Claims (47)
    • Lawns/Landscapes (229)
    • Litigation (327)
    • Livestock (6)
    • Metabolites (3)
    • Microbiata (15)
    • Microbiome (17)
    • Nanosilver (2)
    • Nanotechnology (54)
    • National Politics (386)
    • Occupational Health (6)
    • Oceans (1)
    • Office of Inspector General (1)
    • Pesticide Drift (145)
    • Pesticide Efficacy (3)
    • Pesticide Mixtures (2)
    • Pesticide Regulation (717)
    • Pesticide Residues (165)
    • Pets (28)
    • Plant Incorporated Protectants (1)
    • Poisoning (6)
    • Preemption (29)
    • President-elect Transition (2)
    • Repellent (2)
    • Resistance (102)
    • Rights-of-Way (1)
    • Rodenticide (29)
    • Seeds (4)
    • synergistic effects (8)
    • Synthetic Pyrethroids (9)
    • Take Action (535)
    • Textile/Apparel/Fashion Industry (1)
    • Toxic Waste (6)
    • Wildlife/Endangered Sp. (415)
    • Women’s Health (13)
    • Wood Preservatives (32)
    • World Health Organization (6)
  • Most Viewed Posts

Daily News Blog

22
Jul

Report Rings Alarm of Plummeting Plankton Population, Threatening Ocean Life and Beyond

(Beyond Pesticides, July 22, 2022) A preliminary report on two years of water sampling from sites in the Atlantic Ocean near the United Kingdom (UK), by a team from the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey Foundation (GOES), suggests that plankton populations may have plummeted by 90% since baseline 1940 levels. Just as insects are crucial as the basis of terrestrial ecosystems, plankton are the base of aquatic and marine food chains. As reported by Scotland’s Sunday Post, the reasons include chemical pollution in the ocean from plastics, synthetic fertilizer runoff, and pharmaceuticals. Beyond Pesticides adds that intensive use of synthetic pesticides also contributes to inhospitable conditions for the variety of plankton in our oceans. The researchers warn, “An environmental catastrophe is unfolding. We believe humanity could adapt to global warming and extreme weather changes. It is our view that humanity will not survive the extinction of most marine plants and animals.”

The GOES website asserts, “The story that appeared on the front page of the Sunday Post was based on research and reports from www.GoesFoundation.com. We have just completed the largest Citizen Science project to map microplastic as well plankton productivity across the equatorial Atlantic. The results were so bad, we released an observational report to get the story out. . . . The Sunday Post picked up on this report, and published the information.” Thus, the newspaper’s story was based on that observational report, and not on the study itself. (See more, below.)

There is important background for understanding the GOES report: (1) “plankton” is actually a “catch-all” term that encompasses a wide variety of small and microscopic plant, animal, bacterial, and fungal organisms floating in seas or freshwaters; they comprise, chiefly, diatoms, protozoans, small crustaceans, and the eggs and larval stages of larger animals; and (2) plankton are critical to life on Earth because they form the base of the food chain; they are consumed by krill, which are eaten by fish, which are then consumed by larger ocean creatures, and by terrestrial animals — including billions of human beings.

In addition to their functions in the food chain, some kinds of plankton help oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and even assist in the creation of clouds though their emission of diethyl sulfide (a primary precursor for production and growth of aerosol particles that can seed the formation of cloud droplets in the marine atmosphere). Overall, plankton do best in slightly alkaline conditions; thus, the rapidly acidifying oceans are increasingly problematic for them.

The barrage of pollution that enters our oceans has multiple impacts, but as the Sunday Post explains, the huge amount of CO2 that seawaters absorb from the atmosphere is the primary driver of acidification. Add to that a toxic brew of the remnants of human activity — microplastics, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fertilizer and pesticide runoff, and personal care products (such as sunscreens and cosmetics) — and marine life is endangered. “Once the water reaches a tipping point of acidity, vast amounts of plankton will simply dissolve.” Much lower plankton counts in the recent samplings indicate that this threat is already extreme. The GOES team expected, based on earlier studies, to find something on the order of five pieces of plankton per 10 liters of water; what they found was an average of fewer than one.

Howard Dryden, PhD, marine biologist and former Scottish Government adviser, led the GOES team’s research. He commented, “Of course, we need to continue to reduce CO2 emissions but even if we were carbon-neutral, it [would] not stop ocean acidification. . . . indeed, we will have catastrophic climate change because we have not fixed the primary root cause — the destruction of nature by toxic chemicals and substances such as plastic.” Dr. Dryden continued, “We have two choices. We can choose to wake up, understand and address the real issue or choose the game-over button for humanity come 2050.”

The GOES website explains this perhaps more digestibly: “We now know that even if we became carbon neutral by the end of the decade, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will still pass 500ppm [because of “baked-in” emissions], and oceanic pH will drop below pH 7.95 by 2045. . . . The solution is therefore not just CO2 mitigation, but the regeneration of marine life by the elimination of [ocean] pollution.” The site also points at an obvious solution, noting that 60% of all oceanic life is planktonic, with a “doubling” time of just three days — whereas “terrestrial ecosystems take 60 years to double in mass. So, if we take the toxic brakes off the marine life, then it could bounce back very quickly. However, failure to act to eliminate toxic chemical and particle pollution . . . will affect everyone over the next 25 years.”

He added, in comments to the Sunday Post, “Based on our observations, plankton numbers have already crashed and are now at the levels that I predicted would not happen for another quarter of a century. Given that plankton is the life-support system for the planet and humanity cannot survive without it, the result is disturbing. It will be gone in around 25 years. Our results confirmed a 90% reduction in primary productivity in the Atlantic. Effectively, the Atlantic Ocean is now pretty much dead.” (See below for Dr. Dryden’s correction to this misquote.)

Many, including Beyond Pesticides, would take issue with the statement that “destruction of nature by toxic chemicals” is the root cause of climate change. It is well established that the burning of fossil fuels and the resultant greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2 and methane) are the primary drivers of our warming planet. But his level of concern may be warranted, given that the profligate and global use of all kinds of chemicals is contributing massively to the decline not only of marine environments, but also, of our terrestrial habitats and organisms.

From Beyond Pesticides’ perspective, it is tough to escape the analogy between loss of plankton and other marine life and what is happening to terrestrial insect and pollinator populations, about which we have written extensively (see, e.g., here and here). Chemical pollution of many kinds, including that from pesticides, has emerged as a massive threat to humanity and ecosystems; pesticide use, along with other stressors (notably, climate change and habitat destruction) is having devastating impacts, both direct and indirect, on insect populations, wildlife, biodiversity broadly, human health, freshwater systems, and ecosystem integrity.

We have noted the role of keystone species, such as the mayfly, in the stability and integrity of ecosystems. “Protection of the nation’s waterways is fundamental to healthy ecosystems. The importance of the mayfly to aquatic habitats is demonstrated by its ability to convert sediment nutrients into food for many species of fish and others when they are eaten. Without this critical keystone species, an important food source and nutrient recycler would be lost. With the disruption or loss of important aquatic ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling, water filtration, and a host of other functions, including providing habitat, adverse effects are felt throughout both aquatic and terrestrial systems.” The oceans’ plankton could credibly be considered “über-keystone species” for their function as the basis of the marine (and a significant part of the terrestrial) food chain.

The Sunday Post article has generated criticism in some quarters. Seaver Wang, PhD, co-director of the Climate and Energy Program at California’s Breakthrough Institute — who seems to have conflated the actual research report with what was reported by the Sunday Post — was biting in a Tweeted comment. “The finding is bogus, full stop. I don’t even need to read the report. We’ve had a thing called the Continuous Plankton Recorder [CPR] for 60+ years. [Beyond Pesticides notes that the research used historical data from the CPR in its analyses.] In general, any sweeping trans-oceanic finding like this is immediate cause for skepticism. The ocean + marine life are heterogenous. A sizeable chunk of my dissertation research was on marine plankton in the western North Atlantic. We sampled phytoplankton blooms off the New England coast 2015 and 2017 with abundances of hundreds of millions of cells/liter. Oceans ain’t empty guys. Also, ‘13 vessels and more than 500 data points’ for a finding this sweeping in its assertions is enough to make any microbial oceanographer fall off their lab bench laughing.”

The Sunday Post wrote that the research team “has compiled and analysed information from 13 vessels and more than 500 data points. . . . GOES has been collecting samples from the Atlantic and the Caribbean from its yacht, Copepod. Setting out from Scotland, it sailed along French and Portuguese coasts before crossing the Atlantic. . . . In addition to their own samples, the GOES researchers have provided monitoring equipment to other sailing boat crews so that they can perform the same trawls and report back with their results.”

But the GOES website does note the misrepresentation in the Sunday Post’s coverage, which was picked up and amplified broadly: “The Sunday Post picked up on this report and published the information; please note that [the report] only referred to the area of the Equatorial Atlantic . . . not the whole Atlantic Ocean, although data now coming back from the Azores is just as bad. The findings are also based on a review of peer reviewed papers by the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] and Government reports such as IPEN [International Pollutants Elimination Network]. . . . We have effectively joined the dots that have been missed.”

Beyond Pesticides encourages a serving of salt with Dr. Wang’s analysis, given his (presumably) not having read the actual report, and his affiliation with the Breakthrough Institute. The institute is described by Wikipedia (another grain of salt . . .) as being aligned with an “ecomodernist” philosophy that “advocates for increased use of natural resources through an embrace of modernization, technological development, and increasing U.S. capital accumulation, usually through a combination of nuclear power and urbanization. Since its inception, many environmental scientists and academics outside of the institute have disagreed with Breakthrough’s environmental positions.” We take no position on the institute, but simply point out that a hyperfocus on technology and development tends to go hand-in-hand with unintended consequences, including for the natural world.

Ars Technica decried the quality of the Sunday Post’s reporting, and critiqued the research itself, in a piece titled, “Beware of bad science reporting: No, we haven’t killed 90% of all plankton.” Calling the article’s headline — “Our empty oceans: Scots team’s research finds Atlantic plankton all but wiped out in catastrophic loss of life” — “breathless,” Ars Technica (AT) wrote, “The article then goes on to predict the imminent collapse of our biosphere. There’s just one problem: The article is utter rubbish.”

Specifically, AT makes these points:

  • the newspaper used as its source a preprint, non-peer-reviewed manuscript
  • the small sample size, and lack of information about how and when samples were collected; AT notes that time of day (or night), and the depths at which samples are taken, can both affect the “count”
  • lack of information about the magnification used to determine the presence of plankton in samples; insufficient, low-power magnification would likely miss some of the smallest zooplankton

AT reported an update (to its original July 19 article); it noted that Dr. Dryden had reached out to express dismay at having been misquoted by the Sunday Post. He told AT that the newspaper should have reported a “90% reduction in marine plankton in the Equatorial Atlantic, not the whole Atlantic. . . . The issue is that the findings are accurate and what is stated in the report are [sic] true. We are the first to identify the . . . drop in Plankton. We are working with some academic institutes to prepare a formal peer reviewed report, but this takes time. . . . The results should of course be verified independently, and it should be opened up to proper debate. This may be one of the few chances we [and others] have . . . to pick up the issues and deal with them. If we fail to act and eliminate PCC pollution, microplastics and forever chemicals then we are all going to suffer.”

Beyond Pesticides certainly concurs that our oceans are in big trouble from multiple sources of pollution that are impacting marine ecosystems and organisms. Indeed, the GOES report’s introduction notes that we have lost 50% of all marine life in the past 70 years, and that loss is rising by roughly 1% each year we continue to allow “business as usual.”

This Daily News Blog article presents coverage of this research, though it currently lacks peer review, because it raises very serious concerns that align with other findings about chemical (and plastic) pollution in aquatic environments. Results from even small studies can point to problems that have not yet been fully (or geographically broadly) studied; we ignore such “early warnings” at our peril.

At minimum, concerted efforts both to survey the status of other areas of the Atlantic Ocean (and other seawaters), and even more importantly, to curtail the flow of noxious chemical, plastic, and other pollution into our oceans, should be undertaken immediately. Beyond Pesticides Executive Direct Jay Feldman says of the GOES report, “Reports like this should be a red flag that moves scientists to gather more information, and quickly.”

Sources: https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/humanity-will-not-survive-extinction-of-most-marine-plants-and-animals/ and https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/07/no-the-oceans-are-not-empty-of-plankton/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

Share

Leave a Reply

  • Archives

  • Categories

    • air pollution (2)
    • Announcements (588)
    • Antibiotic Resistance (32)
    • Antimicrobial (11)
    • Aquaculture (30)
    • Aquatic Organisms (27)
    • Bats (6)
    • Beneficials (43)
    • Biofuels (6)
    • Biological Control (27)
    • Biomonitoring (36)
    • Birds (18)
    • btomsfiolone (1)
    • Bug Bombs (2)
    • Canada (10)
    • Cannabis (27)
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (9)
    • Children (71)
    • Children/Schools (231)
    • cicadas (1)
    • Climate (12)
    • Climate Change (64)
    • Clover (1)
    • compost (2)
    • Congress (1)
    • contamination (122)
    • Disinfectants & Sanitizers (13)
    • Drift (4)
    • Drinking Water (3)
    • Ecosystem Services (4)
    • Emergency Exemption (2)
    • Environmental Justice (144)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (367)
    • Events (82)
    • Farm Bill (11)
    • Farmworkers (163)
    • Forestry (5)
    • Fracking (4)
    • Fungal Resistance (2)
    • Fungicides (15)
    • Goats (2)
    • Golf (15)
    • Greenhouse (1)
    • Groundwater (3)
    • Health care (32)
    • Herbicides (14)
    • Holidays (31)
    • Household Use (6)
    • Indigenous People (1)
    • Infectious Disease (2)
    • Integrated and Organic Pest Management (62)
    • Invasive Species (33)
    • Label Claims (47)
    • Lawns/Landscapes (229)
    • Litigation (327)
    • Livestock (6)
    • Metabolites (3)
    • Microbiata (15)
    • Microbiome (17)
    • Nanosilver (2)
    • Nanotechnology (54)
    • National Politics (386)
    • Occupational Health (6)
    • Oceans (1)
    • Office of Inspector General (1)
    • Pesticide Drift (145)
    • Pesticide Efficacy (3)
    • Pesticide Mixtures (2)
    • Pesticide Regulation (717)
    • Pesticide Residues (165)
    • Pets (28)
    • Plant Incorporated Protectants (1)
    • Poisoning (6)
    • Preemption (29)
    • President-elect Transition (2)
    • Repellent (2)
    • Resistance (102)
    • Rights-of-Way (1)
    • Rodenticide (29)
    • Seeds (4)
    • synergistic effects (8)
    • Synthetic Pyrethroids (9)
    • Take Action (535)
    • Textile/Apparel/Fashion Industry (1)
    • Toxic Waste (6)
    • Wildlife/Endangered Sp. (415)
    • Women’s Health (13)
    • Wood Preservatives (32)
    • World Health Organization (6)
  • Most Viewed Posts