Although little is known of degradation, nonetheless
certain principles can be formulated to help understand it. Many of these
principles are common-sense but together they give new insight in the struggle
for life against the onslaught of eutrophication. Mud fertilises the sea,
nutrients accumulate over the continental shelves, nutrients in shortest
supply determine overall fertility, global cycles are of influence like
El Nino, rich plankton causes disease bacteria that kill small and young
organisms, and this can set a chain of death in motion. What are the agents
of doom? How does the sea degrade? What are environmental stresses? Why
is marine degradation accelerating? Does it have an effect on weather and
global climate? What is dimethyl sulphide (DMS)?
mud fertilises the sea
and the marine ecosystems recycle these nutrients
erosion is natural and the sediments and nutrients it carries to the sea
help fertilise the sea, resulting in plankton blooms which are the basis
of the main food chains in the sea. Sediments disperse across the continental
shelves, leaving sand to replenish beaches, and much finer silt on the
shelves for the 'sea soil' which is important in recycling nutrients. The
fine clay particles disperse down the continental slopes and they are very
slowly (hundred millions of years) recycled by sea plates moving under
the continental shelves. A small and sustainable loss of soil from the
land makes room for the fertility locked in deeper layers to reach the
surface, and has a benefit here too. But too much loss not only disturbs
the balance but can also cause very serious degradation on both the land
and in the sea. The diagram shows how mud (from loams), flowing from the
land into the sea, is split into its three main components, sand silt and
clay. The heavy sand particles are deposited close to the shore and these
eventually feed the beaches and dunes. Silt disperses to the centres of
the continental shelves and the ultra-fine clay particles in deeper water
close to the continental slopes.
In contact with salt water, both silt and clay release their nutrients
(pink) which fertilise the plant plankton (green). Wastes are recycled
by bacteria in the water and in the sea soil, to produce new nutrients
and these are recycled repeatedly before they are lost to the open ocean.
soil loss on land exceeds that of soil production through weathering
and subsequent incorporation into the top soil, the soils become thinner,
less fertile and less capable of storing moisture. The vegetation thins
and eventually soils are insufficiently covered against the onslaught of
heavy raindrops. The loss of soil now accelerates beyond control and eventually
bare rock remains. Many places in the world, are progressing along this
path of accelerating soil loss, also along coasts.
The diagram shows how soils degrade in the process of being used for
agriculture. Notice the amount of carbon held in soil organisms and humus
and how this is lost gradually, almost unnoticeably. Then suddenly comes
the point of no return, where the top soil disappears suddenly, with rapid
loss of the loams underneath (mud). Before this happens, additional fertilisation
combined with the planting of forests can still halt this process. But
at our shores which have been ravaged by possums, this is a tall order,
as these are steep while losing their coastal vegetation.
has long been thought that the main component of erosion comes from the
very visible slips, gully erosion and sheetwash (water flowing over land).
But recent research has shown that the main loss of soil comes from the
direct impact of rain drops on bare soil. This effect is rather acute,
as increasing the size of a raindrop five-fold results in a release of
500 times more energy. Understandably, the most damage is done during the
heaviest rains. All over the world the intensity of rains is increasing,
and here in New Zealand we are witnessing torrential rains as never seen
before. As a result, the amount of mud washed into the sea is increasing
rapidly (my estimate: doubling every decade). For marine organisms that
have evolved in the cleanest of coastal waters, this is a disaster of highest
Here in New Zealand we do not have a reliable system for measuring
the accumulative amount of sediment discharged to the sea. A simple method
like placing sediment traps on all wharves, has never been thought of.
of coastal nutrients
nutrients above the continental shelves are mainly contained in the bodies
of living plant and animal plankton as these move with tidal and ocean
currents. It was once thought that sea currents cleanse the continental
waters sufficiently, but a number of physical mechanisms herd nutrients
back onto the shelves. The diagram shows how the sea winds towards the
land are stronger than land winds, and the waves they produce are also
much larger. This pushes a surface current towards the shore, and with
it, the shallow plankton. Coastal currents corkscrew as they flow along
the continental margins, pushing deep nutrients back onto the shelves.
They also produce eddies that push plankton organisms and their nutrients
back to the continental shelves. These three mechanisms conserve the productivity
of the continental shelves, reducing fertility losses to the open ocean.
Satellite images of chlorophyll (= the green plant matter for photosynthesis)
confirm sharp boundaries at the continental shelf margins.
Thus the fertility over continental shelves is not easily lost to the open
ocean, as it accumulates in a balance between increasing inputs from the
land and decreasing outputs to the ocean in El Niño years when ocean
currents slow down.
Many sources of pollution are point sources, as pollution is
released at points along the coast, such as the mouths of rivers and estuaries.
These pollution plumes flare out as tidal and ocean currents transport
them along the coast, extending the damage to the coastal zone over a wide
area. It has been observed, for example, that the pollution from Hamilton's
Waikato River and Auckland's Manukau Harbour travels north, then around
North Cape to go south again, causing damage to the Parengarenga and Houhora
harbours, hundreds of kilometres away. One finds places far away from population
densities still highly polluted by them.
nutrients in shortest supply
Plankton does not bloom just because nutrients and sunlight are available.
Diatoms, the main food source in the sea, require silica for their shells
and also iron, which are in short supply in clear salt water. But these
two minerals are amply provided for by mud/clay since clay is an aluminium-iron
silicate. Thus an inflow of mud can lead to a sudden plankton bloom that
uses the already available nutrients. People often blame artificial fertiliser
for problems in the sea but one needs to distinguish between flatland fertilisation
and that of hill country. The first uses an excess in nitrates which leach
quickly, being detrimental to freshwater ways and ultimately the sea. Hill
country fertiliser uses no nitrates, little phosphate but much lime, potassium
and sulphur. These components are readily available in the sea while phosphate
binds firmly to clay particles. As a result, the threat from hill country
is not from fertilisation but from erosion, which supplies the missing
nutrients of silica and iron and the natural fertility locked up in clay.
Ironically, this threat can be mitigated by fertilising aimed at improving
soil cover. Since fertiliser subsidies were abolished in 1986, aerial topdressing
declined sharply, such that the hill country is now insufficiently fertilised.
It explains the sudden appearance and steep increase in marine degradation
The runoff from both types of land produces everything the plankton
needs to bloom violently. Please note that the density of a plankton bloom
depends mainly on the nutrients in shortest supply and will vary remarkably.
Niño - La Niña cycle
But there is another mechanism at work, that of the El Niño cycle.
Contrary to what scientists claim, this is a slow and predictable cycle
of about ten years during which the Pacific gyres (= circular currents)
speed up and slow down. In the El Niño phase currents are minimal,
resulting in warm water amassing in the tropics (coral bleaching and hurricanes)
while temperate seas become cooler. The cleansing currents around NZ also
diminish, resulting in fertility building up in our coastal seas. During
the El Niño phase (1982-1983, 1992-1994, 2001-2005) excessive plankton
blooms are experienced and cold water because less warm water reaches NZ.
Degradation in the sea thus has two components: a gradual worsening superimposed
on a ten year cycle.
Longer than usual periods of cold water are experienced by marine creatures
as if the summer never came, and with it the chance of successful recruitment.
Remember that the difference between summer and winter spans a range of
6ºC: 2 for winter, 2 for summer and 2 for spring and autumn inbetween.
A two degree variation in temperature thus equals one season. Particularly
for warm water species (snapper, kahawai and various jacks) the chance
of successful recruitment decreases rapidly as the ratio of warm years
over cold years does (e.g: nine good years in ten 9/10=0.9 versus three
good years in ten 3/10=0.3). Thus spawning success can decrease rapidly
below what we can imagine. A decrease in temperature may also be decisive on grazing fish (and
other creatures) whose digestive enzymes restrict their ranges. It could
also affect growth of other species where these habitually seek shallow
warm water to increase their digestive rates (and a sense of wellbeing),
perhaps also necessary for successful spawning. Likewise an increase in
temperature can affect species in their northernmost ranges.
feeds and kills
dissolved nutrients from mud become available for the plant plankton which
converts carbondioxide into carbohydrates and other building blocks of
life, using the energy from sunlight. Because the phytoplankton organisms
are so small, they can be 'grazed' only by small organisms. These are predated
upon by ever larger ones, forming the ocean's food chain in many levels
(trophic cascades). But invisibly, a large and very active component
of the ocean consists of decomposers, suspended in the water as bacteria
and viruses, and also living in the sea soil. These decomposing organisms
are not friendly to living organisms (and to one another), threatening
them with infections and decay. Just imagine what it would be like to be
surrounded by sea water containing both one's food and excrement, and to
breathe it as well. This concept has led to the plankton
balance hypothesis (read this very important chapter first) which
reminds us that plankton has two opposing aspects: that of feeding
and killing. Organisms in the sea have evolved to live in the balance
between the two - some in clear waters, others in more polluted waters.
Should the balance change, organisms will die either for lack of food or
for an excessive risk of infection. This alone explains mass mortalities
and other loss of life as the concentration of plankton increases or decreases.
In case of excessive
rot (= dying organisms), the decomposers usurp
most of the solar energy, and the plankton can suddenly become a potent
killer, although not being poisonous.
One reason that decomposers are so influential, is that decomposers
are the only ones connecting all trophic levels in an ecosystem.
In 2005 we discovered a method to measure the activity of the planktonic
decomposers (read the DDA chapter)
and this showed us that the decomposers can suddenly take over, thereby
reducing the plankton's food value while increasing the risk to life. Plankton
can suddenly turn from feeding to killing.
Those who have saltwater aquariums will have found out that decaying organisms
render the whole aquarium unhealthy because of the sudden increase in decomposing
bacteria and fungi. In the open sea this is no different. A storm may remove
large numbers of seaweeds from the rocks they grew on. Once these seaweeds
decay, other organisms may die because of this (usually in a tranquil corner).
A kelp forest which remains insufficiently grazed through the absence of
grazing fish or snails, produces rotting leaves which affect the health
of other organisms. Plant plankton which is insufficiently grazed by zoo
plankton will die and cause decay in the entire water column, with unpleasant
side effects. Organisms of decay are thus potent indicators of degradation.
The sea soil could well be a potent source of poisons. When stirred
by large storms, the otherwise locked up decomposers of the sea soils are
released into the shallow waters of the continental shelves and with them
poisonous substances like ammonia (NH4) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). It
is not known whether this effect is causing enough harm to be important.
Symptoms of disease will be visible mostly on long-lived animals and plants
because short-lived ones die soon from natural causes. It so happens that
infections to the underwater world spread and kill quickly, leaving little
chance of recovery. Because the period of visible symptoms is so short
relative to the longevity of the organism, the symptoms may remain unnoticed
or their seriousness underestimated. For instance, a male sandagers wrasse
aged 15 years on average, while dying within two weeks of showing symptoms,
is not likely to be seen, as the chance of encountering one is 1/(15x20)=1/300.
One needs to meet 300 sandagers wrasses to meet one diseased one, even
though the disease may be a major cause of its decline. Thus disease symptoms
must be weighted (multiplied) with the longevity of the organism.
f046121: this male sandagers wrass (Coris sandageri)
is in an advanced stage of a fungal infection that soon will break through
to its brain and cause it to swimm erratically, as aquarium studies have
shown. It takes about 2 weeks for the visible stage of this infection,
reason why it is rarely seen even though it may be the cause of widely
spread deaths. Poor Knights marine reserve 2005.
f046133: this grey nipple sponge (Polymastia fusca)
has a bacterial infection that will slowly dissolve it and dislodge it
from the substrate, which takes about 4 weeks. Aged about 4 years, and
dying within 1/10th of a year, makes the chance of seeing these symptoms
about one in 40. Poor Knights marine reserve 2005.
is far worse than fishing
web of ecological relationships is not shaped like a fishing net with equal
nodes and rungs, but like a pyramid with the main relationships following
the flow of energy towards the top. There are influences downward but these
are necessarily much smaller. The diagram shows this pyramid with the producers
at the bottom and commercial fish species at the top. Each successive tier
of this cake is about ten times smaller than the one beneath it. Thus fishing
mainly takes a bite out of the small top of the pyramid (typically 0.1-0.01%
of the total biomass). By contrast, degradation affects mainly the bottom
tiers of the pyramid and in doing so, also all dependent tiers above. What
fishermen see is a decline in fish, which they then attribute to overfishing,
but in reality it is caused by direct kill (fish), kill of sensitive fish
larvae, and a reduction in food (zoo plankton).
This makes the impact of degradation far worse than that of fishing,
to such extent that marine reserves do not help at all even where only
a small degree of degradation exists.
agents and effects
diagram shows how threats from human activities, affect the sea. It is
a complicated web of causes and effects. On left in blue the main human
activities. In the centre in brown and green the agents, and on right their
effects on the sea. The main threatening activities are:
urban development: as soil is shifted and laid bare, much of it
washes away into the sea, up to 6000 times natural rate!
roading: the cutting of roads and leaving them bare causes much
erosion. The tar-seal does not absorb moisture but causes unimpeded runoff.
farming: the lowlands are productive and overfertilised such that
much fertiliser is washed out of soils, reaching the sea. By contrast,
the highlands are underfertilised, resulting in loss of top soil and severe
erosion. Much of our country has been denuded carelessly. Ploughed lands
pose a very high risk of nutrient loss, soil loss and overfertilistation.
sewage: sewage is a very balanced, almost perfect fertiliser. Where
populations of people live, it forms the number one threat to the sea,
killing organisms outright or by dense plankton blooms. Animal wastes from
farming also reach the sea. It is estimated that 50 million sheep plus
8 million cattle amount to a waste equivalent of 200 million people, but
at least half of it recycles on the farm.
industry: many non-biodegradable chemicals and minerals originate
from industrial processes, and many find their way into garbage dumps from
which they can leak into the sea. Some marine organisms are very sensitive
to these, whereas others accumulate them. Because these chemicals can be
measured easily, scientists have focused unduly on their potential threats
which are very small compared to that of degradation.
fishing: when people fish the sea, they take life, which kills mature
organisms. Fishing is a form of predation of which the sea has many, but
when overdone, it can impair the functioning of ecosystems. Fishing can
kill non-targeted species as bycatch, including juvenile fish, sea birds
and sea mammals. Nets can damage sessile life and change the sea soil.
However, fishing alters only a small part of the whole ecosystem, typically
no more than 1-3%. To say otherwise, is like saying that shooting the
bears destroys the forest.
The main agents of doom are:
mud: mud consists of four components: sand which does not
affect the environment + silt which can suffocate organisms + clay
which releases nutrients and can suffocate organisms, particularly when
combined with bacteria + dissolved organic compounds (from humus)
which can decompose further into nutrients. Mud also obscures light, which
kills plants and plant plankton. Mud replaces food as filterfeeding organisms
catch it instead of plankton, which costs energy. In the end they don't
get enough food to survive and die with their stomachs full. First thriving
fails; they grow more slowly or fall ill to invading organisms. Then reproduction
fails, shown by the absence of juveniles or by missing year classes. Finally
nutrients: when in the right concentrations, cause dense plankton
blooms which can: obscure light, killing plants + become infectious,
killing plants and animals, particularly those with thin skins like fish
larvae + cause plankton toxins that are extremely toxic to most
animal life and humans.
poisons: poisons from human activities and plankton blooms can accumulate
in organisms, killing slowly or causing changes such as poor reproduction.
They consist of industrial chemicals + agricultural chemicals
and pesticides + heavy metals + plankton toxins.
decomposing bacteria: recent discoveries with the DDA
have shown that eutrophication can cause decomposing bacteria to increase
substantially, causing deaths from infections. Decomposing bacteria kill
phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish larvae and ultimately also long-lived
debris: arises from carelessness but is usually inert and of little
consequence to sea organisms. Some birds or sea mammals may become trapped.
For this section it is of too little relevance.
When we enter the sea to observe degradation, we won't see the causes (human
activities). With some luck we will observe some agents such as muddy water
(not good for diving/observing) and plankton blooms. We won't be able to
see poisons. Neither will we be able to see the organisms that have been
killed and that have disappeared. So how can we go about observing degradation?
In nature the relationships
between causes and effects are not necessarily linear. Particularly many
biochemical reactions have an optimum outside which the effect diminishes.
Eutrophication which is the overnourishment of rivers, lakes and the sea,
has such an optimum (see diagram). When there are no nutrients, life cannot
exist, so a certain amount is needed. When this amount is doubled, life
responds likewise by doubling growth and production (A). But soon an additional
amount of nutrients does not produce an increase in growth, and the optimum
is reached (B). At this point, the excess in nutrients is neither beneficial
nor harmful. But when it is increased further, growth diminishes and organisms
display signs of illness or stress (C). Here eutrophication begins. If
nutrients continue to be increased, death soon follows (D). Compare this
with the requirements of a pot plant: too little nutrients or water is
harmful, and too much of it also.
Although the downslope does not necessarily look steep, it is when one
considers the incremental effect. When nutrients are at 20 units, doubling
causes a doubling of growth, but when they are at 50 units, a doubling
causes death. At part C of the curve, a slight increase of 20 units causes
a considerable and fatal blow. Thus when the environment passes the optimal
point, changes happen very quickly and with devastating effect. The good
news, however, is that the way back, through the reduction of nutrients,
likewise produces quick positive results.
Note that the curve shown here is a hypothetical one, and if it could
in any way be measured, it would consist of many similar curves, one for
each separate organism. Some organisms are more sensitive than others.
Compare this for instance with the productivity of an oil field, which
consists of many individual wells, each having a production curve similar
to that of the combined total.
of light kills
we need to become familiar with the processes of degradation, one of which
is shown in this diagram. On left a rich community in clear water. On right
a severely degraded community in murky water. Loss of light clearly affects
plants such that they can no longer grow deep. In severe cases only seaweeds
tolerant to low light conditions survive. Observations show that they also
need to be more tolerant to sedimentation and bacterial attack. Thus loss
of light, suffocation by mud and being killed by disease organisms, are
almost inseparable and usually come together.
The lower boundaries of seaweeds are usually due to lack of light.
In such places the plants can just survive, their energy budgets teetering
between gain (in light) and loss (in darkness). As a result, such plants
have little food value and are unattractive to feed on. They also have
fewer reserves to fight infections and infestations. It is here that the
first signs of degradation are found.
The lower boundaries are worth taking note of since they are a direct
measure of the average water quality. Degradation of water quality is first
noted by the absence of young plants where old plants form an open canopy.
The ratio of old over young organisms furthermore gives an idea of whether
things get better or worse.
of the reasons people fail to notice degradation is because they do not
go deep enough. Where the water is in constant movement, such as near the
surface, mud and suffocating organisms cannot settle out (but toxins still
have their effect). A similar place is found close to the bottom where
sand is moved around, cleansing sessile organisms by its abrasive action.
Degradation is most severe in tranquil and sheltered places, particularly
inside caves. Note that the gradients discussed before provide a rich range
of 'natural experiments' from which ecological conclusions can be drawn.
The depth of the sand is a direct measure of the strength of long
waves, which are the ones causing natural damage to the reef. This kind
of damage is of a mechanical nature and can easily be recognised.
The word stress is used for any influence that may cause disease
or death. The effect of a stressor is expressed as the chance to die from
it. When multiple stressors apply, the chance to die from several is the
sum of the chances of dying from each. Thus stresses add up. For instance,
one can die from suffocation by mud or from the disease component in dense
plankton. Take the two together and it means that one can die from murky
water (mud + phyoplankton + bacteria). Thus without knowing precisely which
component is responsible, one can safely say that turbid water is unhealthy
for the marine environment and that it has a major influence.
The chance of dying in one week is seven times larger than that of dying
in one day, thus the stress duration multiplies the effect of the stress.
large events also last longer
A large event takes longer to go away, thus the effect of stress in any
one point increases quadratically with the size of the effect, which means
that degradation increases rapidly as events become larger.
large events affect large areas
As an event becomes larger, it is not only more intensive at its point
source but will flare out over a proportionally larger area, as also its
intensity reduces. The above three effects make point-source events such
as the discharge from a river into the sea after a rain storm, unintuitively
large, following a third-power effect: Twice the amount of rain causes
almost eight times the amount of stress!!
frequency affects old creatures
The frequency of effects is also very important because it reduces the
recovery time in between. A disastrous event every ten years leaves nine
years in between for the recovery. A once a year effect leaves one year.
A twice a year effect only half year. Thus when degradation begins, its
effect on the environment progresses rapidly, first on long-lived species
and later on short-lived species. This explains why degradation has such
large effects when it begins in the cleanest of waters.
Imagine the effect of 'good
years' in a 10-year cycle as those where recruitment is 'normal', supplying
the new fish for a fishery. When 10 out of 10 years are good, one won't
notice much the change to 9 years out of 10. But when the number of good
years are only 3 out of 10, then the fishery will notice a threefold decline
in young fish and thus their fish stocks.
Now imagine that there are
'bad' years as well, years with fish kill, undoing the good years. It is
like earning 10 dollars and spending none, compared to earning 9 and spending
1, which is still hardly noticeable in what you keep. But earning 3 and
spending 7 lands you in a very unenviable position with a debt of 4 dollar!
We do not know how the mathematics
of degradation work precisely, but there are various reasons why it can
All this means that degradation, once it sets in, progresses quickly.
It also means that the gradient from clear to dirty water has a very progressive
effect on the environment!! And contrary to intuition, that the most profound
effects of degradation are found in places with usually clear water!!
dies only once
Death is quite a profound effect. An organism may get infected or stunted
but still has a chance of recovering, even being capable of reproduction.
But death is final and irreversible. Missing organisms change their environment
by leaving space for others and by affecting the lives of others. A
one-off disaster has more profound consequences than a run of good years.
Thus missing organisms and vacant territory are profound indicators of
is slow, death is sudden
Organisms grow slowly, often having to consume their bodies' weight many
times. Populations also grow slowly. But death ususally comes suddenly
as it happens in predation and through natural disasters. As a result,
a single disastrous event will take many years to recover. Thus recovery
from a disaster happens much more slowly than the disaster's immediate
impact. When disasters happen more frequently, their lasting effect degrades
the environment quite profoundly.
surface area shrinks with age
Bacterial attack happens over an organism's entire surface, and is counteracted
by the organism's self defence and reserves, which are proportional to
body weight or volume. Assume for a moment a spherical fish whose surface
area is given by 4 x pi x r x r and whose volume is
given by 0.75 x pi x r x r x r where
is the radius or size of this fictitional organism. The ratio between the
two (= 5.33 x r ) is a measure of an organism's sensitivity to bacterial
attack, and this grows proportionally as the organism grows. It is not
unusual for a marine organism to grow from 1mm to 50mm (50-fold) in its
first year and 1000-fold over a lifetime. Thus the larvae of marine
organisms are much more sensitive to bacterial attack than their adults.
Note that a spherical organism has the most favourable (smallest) ratio
of surface area to volume but fish larvae which are thin and elongated,
have the worst possible ratio. This explains why recruitment failure
is an early symptom of degradation.
Degradation does not only leave empty space<center>,<object data="../../sfmenu.htm#top"
type="text/html" width="750" height="80"></object></center> but since
everything is connected, also causes new phenomena. For instance, a mass
mortality of predators shows up in an excess of young prey. Mass mortality
of schooling fish shows up in undamaged jellyfish which otherwise would
have had their gonads (eggs) eaten out. As a consequence of an unusual
event, other unusual phenomena will happen later, which confirm the original
observation. Thus observation cannot stop once the effect is over, but
must continue well into its aftermath.
The decline of scallops (Pecten novaezelandiae) in Whangaroa Harbour
initially increased fishing effort, with consequent damage of the sea bottom,
but eventually reduced it as people gave up. As a result, the carpet fanworm
has made an impressive come-back, even though the underwater habitats there
have been ravaged by degradation.
f040009: carpet fan worms have made a come-back in Whangaroa
Harbour due to the decline in scallop dredging but they are now threatened
by rapidly deteriorating water quality.
f042126: the fluffy sediment layer shows that it is not being
grazed. Although sediment is a strong indicator, the vast amounts of vacant
territory are even more meaningful.
experiment has been done already
The basis of Baconian (Francis Bacon 1561-1626, English Philosopher), science
is to do controlled experiments (with/without, before/after, inside/outside,
etc) but in nature such experiments are often impossible to carry out.
However, due to the diversity in situations, species and external influences,
the end results of nature's experiments in a healthy sea are the habitats
we see. Add degradation, and what we observe underwater is a large number
of experiments already done on each and every species, situation and habitat.Science-by-observation
then consists of finding the places where nature has done her experiments
and understanding these as if the scientist had done them himself. One
can always find control sites, gradients representing dosage rates, and
so on. Although this kind of science is more like detective work than
objectively setting up a controlled experiment, it may well develop into
a respectable scientific method. The main point is that so often controlled
ecological experiments cannot be done. Remember also that in the life sciences,
observation still provides a large source of knowledge.
people are obtuse (blind to the obvious)
The reasons most people (including marine scientists) are unable to see
not being a diver. Snorkeldivers and glassbottom boats remain mainly
in the wave-cleansed area. People studying the rocky shore are unlikely
to see degradation unless it is far advanced. Note that people frequenting
the sea, such as boaties and fishermen, are in a better situation to observe
degradation than marine scientists who are restricted to their laboratories.
not being an experienced diver (like more than 15 years in the same
country). The first decade as a diver is necessary to become familiar with
the marine environment and to become a proficient diver. After about 15
years one has experienced one complete ten year cycle after which one can
learn to see degradation, but only if one is keen to do so. People who
dive for food do not have the right mind-set, but they can notice relative
abundance or absence of their quarry.
not being able to observe the marine environment, such as diving
for sport, food and work (includes research).
not being interested in observing marine life and how it degrades,
such as diving for fun, for photography, for food.
unfamiliarity with marine organisms and their functions in the environment.
One needs to know what lives where and why, and who eats what and how long
they live for, and much more.
unfamiliarity with ecological limiting factors like exposure, shelter,
shading, niches, discontinuities in habitat (cracks, sand, slope/aspect),
and so on. One needs to know how the sea differs from the land (Read biodiversity/marine)
and what it means to live in the sea.
not being able to dive where and when one wishes, using one's own
boat, in good and bad conditions, all places, all habitats, all seasons.
not being able to record the environment on photos which can stimulate
the mind afterwards while providing an excellent record.
not knowing the indicators of change: since it is impossible to
see directly what is no longer there, one has to learn to see indicators
Ironically, even most marine scientists do not satisfy the above list of
requirements. One really needs to be a marine naturalist with a keen sense
of observing before one can make progress. This section aims to show you
what to look for so that you may get there more quickly than I did.
One of the main recurring mistakes is that people fail to understand
the differences between land and sea, and automatically make assumptions
that are not valid. It is important therefore, to read the chapter on biodiversity
and the introduction to marine
habitats and read them again in order to get a good feel for the many
important differences. If you want to test your new-found knowledge, study
the Frequently Asked Questions about marine reserves