Compass sea jelly in False Bay

Article: Phenomena on ocean calamities

The news article/paper that we read yesterday was a serious, yet hopeful assessment of the current and future state of ocean animals. Today’s article is also by Carl Zimmer, writing for Phenomena, and covers an opinion piece that appeared in Bioscience. A group of marine biologists criticises the tendency of scientists to generalise local effects into a supposed global “ocean calamities”. This breeds pessimism and inaction, as the general public is assailed by one apparent disaster scenario after another, and a point of fatigue is reached. The authors contend that

… the marine research community may not have remained sufficiently skeptical in sending and receiving information on the problems caused by human pressures in the ocean and that there is a need to revisit the process by which potential or isolated problems escalate to the status of ocean calamities.

It must be tempting, as a conservation biologist or environmental activist (two different professions) to talk up the dire threats facing coral reefs, or sharks, or whales, in order to attract attention or funding. But it is important to keep things in their proper context and perspective. Furthermore, all of us have a duty to remain skeptical, to investigate claims that seem extreme, and to do a little research beyond the headlines, tweets and facebook status updates. Make no mistake, this is not about being skeptical of science and its capacity to assist us in understanding the world around us; it is about being skeptical about how facts are presented, paraphrased, and – after enough repetition – possibly distorted.

Read Zimmer’s full article here. As an aside, he mentions his New York Times article on the Science paper concerning the health of the world’s oceans that we discussed yesterday. He asked the authors of the ocean calamities paper whether the Science paper was overstating the threats to marine life. Their response was that the paper was balanced and an accurate assessment of the current state of affairs.

I also encourage you to check out the original paper that Zimmer is writing about, which runs through several well-known “ocean calamities” (jellyfish blooms, harmful algal blooms, overfishing, invasive species, etc) and assesses the extent of the evidence for each one to qualify as a global threat to the oceans.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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