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Pacific Apocalypse: The Great Dying Continues

Tom Lewis |

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June 18, 2015

The Pacific Ocean appears to be turning toxic to all life, a prospect with unimaginably dire consequences for humanity. News stories about it are fragmented, and slotted into the “Environment” category, and thus easily ignored by the rich and famous and their news channels. (Breaking News: Donald Trump Running Mate May be Caitlyn Jenner!) In just the latest manifestation of this calamity, what may be the largest bloom of toxic algae ever detected is poisoning sea life from California to British Columbia — with toxin from it detected not far off Alaska. Crab and clam fisheries have been shut down in two states so far, and the so-called red tide is still growing. In Monterey Bay, California, the concentration of domoic acid secreted by the algae is the highest ever recorded.

One of the few stories on this event to be found in the general media, on the CNBC website, is at great pains to reassure its readers that they can go about their business, nothing to see here:  the red tide “doesn’t pose a health risk to people who eat commercially caught fish,” it says in paragraph two, although it could kill people who eat crabs or shellfish; “no significant impact on commercial fishermen, who have moved on to harvesting other species” it says, mainly because the crab season is over anyway, and this will all blow over by fall, right? “Blooms are common,” it says reassuringly, then explains that this one is unique.

The CNBC piece, like most, makes only passing reference to the growing avalanche of mass deaths of marine life that have been plaguing the Pacific Coast for at least two years.

  • The Pacific population of the forage fish that form the base of the marine food chain — sardines, anchovies, and herring — has been decimated, with inevitable ill effects on the species that feed on them — salmon, sharks, whales and sea lions.
  • Not coincidentally, this is the second year in a row that record numbers of emaciated, dying sea lions have been washed ashore in California.
  • The number of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean has declined by 95 per cent. Mexico has banned fishing for them, the United States is still thinking it over.,
  • oysters, a staple seafood product of the Pacific Northwest, have been declining in number for ten years because of rising ocean acidification related to its absorption of carbon dioxide from the air.
  • Virtually all species of marine birds are disappearing from the coast, their populations reduced by 75% and more. It, too, is now being called the largest die-off of its kind in history.
  • Hundred of thousands of dead red crabs are washing ashore on California beaches from San Diego to Orange County right now. Says Reuters, in the second paragraph of its story, “Such strandings take place periodically and are not necessarily a threat to the species.” Move along, nothing to see here, just miles and miles of obscene red death.
  • Even whales in larger numbers than usual are washing up dead on California’s shores. No one knows exactly why, so everyone insists it has nothing to do with anything else.
  • Starfish, more properly known as sea stars, have been virtually wiped out from Mexico to Alaska, apparently by a virus that turns them to mush. It may be the largest mortality event ever witnessed by humans.

Scientists, cautious as always of their reputations and the constant yelps of criticism from the right, are reluctant to ascribe this massive dying across the spectrum of marine life to any particular cause. El Nino and Fukushima radiation are popular villains, indicted but not yet convicted, with ocean acidification and climate change soon to go before the grand jury.

With your house in flames from the basement to the attic, it doesn’t make much sense to debate whether the fire was started by a match or a propane lighter. It would make sense to get out of the house.

But where are we going to go?