“The problem is building the political will to want to fix them. That starts with simply getting people to understand how critically important it is for our own long term quality of life to take better care of the planet. “ ~ Dr. Peter Sale
Dr. Peter Sale as author of the recent book, Our Dying Planet, tells the story of our impact on our marine environment from the perspective of one who has contributed to marine science over many years, and one who has seen the decline of coral reefs with his own eyes. It provides a compelling explanation of why we need to understand ocean issues and make some serious changes if we want a quality life for our children.
“the thing that got me motivated to write my book in the first place was a lifetime of research on coral reefs. Then waking up to the knowledge that they could all disappear about the same time I disappear, which you know maybe I won’t be around to worry about it but I think it’s tragic because we are talking about potentially the loss of an entire ecosystem from the planet. Which is something we haven’t done before and I think it’s something that people still don’t appreciate the extent of.” “that’s one of the reasons I keep talking to people, trying to get the message out that we have a huge environmental problem but it’s not one that should cause us to curl up in bed and pull the covers over our heads. It’s a problem that we understand, it has many elements, we understand them, we know what we need to do to fix them, we have the capacity right now to fix them.”
Stress on the World’s Coral Reefs
Peter Sale explains coral bleaching and coral reef die-offs as symptoms of the stress on the world’s coral reefs, “the only way a coral reef exists is when you have remarkably good conditions in terms of water quality, you’ve got blue oceanic water, you have stable environmental conditions and you have the right kind of conditions for coral to grow.” Peter describes corals as pretty sensitive creatures, being dramatically effected by plastic pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. “they’re also very sensitive to temperature and they tend to live close to the upper limit of the temperatures they can tolerate. So one of the things we’re doing right now with climate change is increasing… sea surface temperature around the world. This means that periods of extra warm weather… are pushing temperatures above what corals can tolerate and you’re having massive bleaching of corals, which is a stress response. Following that stress if bad conditions last for a couple of weeks you’ll have massive coral die-offs … this is something that didn’t happen before the early 1980s, there’s no recorded cases of extensive coral bleaching before the 1980s.
Peter details how over fishing, coastal development and mangrove habitat destruction can also devastate our coral reefs. “we’re also over fishing…we’re polluting them …and corals cannot sustain pollution, we’re damaging them by inappropriate coastal development. we’ve ripped out the mangroves in order to create beaches. We bring in the sand … where the beaches don’t belong and where the mangroves do belong.” “these are the things we’ve been doing for years and years and years and now on top of that we’re heating up the ocean.” “And these changes are happening so rapidly that the corals can’t evolve their way out of it.”
“we are powerful enough to change the nature of the planet”
“We need to be conscious of the fact that we are powerful enough to change the nature of the planet … the coral reef is really just a symptom of that.” “we have a bigger responsibility than other creatures on the planet because we are capable of changing the climate, because we’re capable of cutting down the rain forests…and to allow coral reefs to disappear without fighting really hard to prevent it, I think that’s unethical. I think that’s another reason why it matters.” “My book was written as a way of getting information in front of people and trying to draw peoples attention to the fact that this is a very big problem and yet there are solutions for it and we just need to apply those solutions” and take action, be an ocean change-maker.
Peter Sale has enjoyed a career as a marine biologist doing research into ecology of coral reefs in Hawaii, Australia, the Caribbean, and places in between. Early research on structure of reef fish communities led to study of reef connectivity. These studies facilitated his interests and engagement in the management of tropical coastal systems. He now lives with his wife Donna in the Muskoka region north of Toronto, where, as Chair of the Muskoka Watershed Council, his current goal is to make Muskoka the most environmentally responsible community in Ontario. Peter is an Ocean Author with the recent publication of his book “Our Dying Planet”
We hope that this marine conservation message by Dr. Peter Sale has brought to you the plight of the world’s coral reefs, the causes and the solutions that we can all be part of. To find out more about the effects that climate change and global warming are having on coral reefs see the entire interview with Peter Sale at the Blue Ocean 2015 Summit: Dr. Peter Sale. To read a review of David’s book “Our Dying Planet” and to support the Blue Ocean Community order his book from the store.
Sharon Kwok has lived in both Hong Kong and San Francisco experiencing the cultural traditions of both continents. Like Dr. Peter Sale, Sharon is now devoted to raising environmental awareness in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Sharon continues our discussion of Global Perspectives at Ocean Profiles: Sharon Kwok