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Marine Life May Face Extinction in an Industrialized World

Jan 16, 2015 01:24 PM EST

A lot of marine life may face extinction in the next 100 years as our industrialized world puts more and more pressures on ocean species, according to new research. 

While the situation undersea currently isn't as grim as it is up top - about 500 land-based species have disappeared in the last 500 years - it seems to be heading in that direction.

Co-author Steve Palumbi of Stanford University lists several concerning threats, comparing them to the march of the Industrial Revolution on land.

"There are factory farms in the sea and cattle-ranch-style feed lots for tuna," he said in a statement. "Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest. Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold-rush-like fervor, and 300-ton ocean mining machines and 750-foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work."

These are just a few examples of how human activities in the oceans are threatening the health of marine wildlife populations. And that's not even considering the effects of climate change, particularly when it comes to ocean acidification. Increasingly acidic waters due to buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide is diminishing Great Barrier Reef corals, robbing sharks of their predatory senses, and hindering sea stars and other calcifiers in their ability to store calcium carbonate, which is crucial in forming their protective skeletons.

"All signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution," lead author Douglas McCauley said. "We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land."

While the researchers say that marine life is relatively healthy at this point, they suggested some ideas on how to keep it that way. For example, they say setting aside larger areas of ocean that is off limits to industrial development and fishing could be critical for various species. But in addition to that, they add, effective policies could be created to better address and manage ocean wildlife threats and damage in those areas between the protected waters.

The research was published in the journal Science.

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