News / USA

Environmental Writer Blames Humans for Dying Oceans

Alanna Mitchell says human activity is behind hundreds of ocean "dead zones"

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

Environmental writer Alanna Mitchell traveled to ocean hot spots worldwide to see firsthand what is happening to the marine ecosystem.
Environmental writer Alanna Mitchell traveled to ocean hot spots worldwide to see firsthand what is happening to the marine ecosystem.

Huge swathes of the ocean are dying and environmental writer Alanna Mitchell says humans are to blame.

Mitchell believes human activity is altering everything about the world's oceans, including their temperature, acidity and the life within them. Most of the earth's oxygen is produced in the sea by single-celled organisms. In addition, our climate is regulated by the ocean's currents, winds and water cycle activity.

A dead zone occurs when water at the sea floor is anoxic - or has very low or no concentrations of dissolved oxygen.

Dead zone

In her new book, "Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth," Mitchell takes her readers to one of the world's nearly 500 dead zones - in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a wide expanse of the ocean that should be alive.

"It's all happening because of the fertilizers that farmers up and down the Mississippi River are putting on their crops," says Mitchell.

According to Mitchell, nutrients from the fertilizer causes phytoplankton to grow and multiply out of control. In addition to oxygen, they produce organic matter, which sinks to the sea floor. There, it's broken down by bacteria and gives off carbon dioxide. That CO2, Mitchell says, and carbon dioxide from the air, is changing the ocean's chemistry.

"We are making the ocean acidic. We're doing that by putting carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels. Some of that carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean and makes carbonic acid."

Seasick

Mitchell says increased acidity, along with other forms of pollution and climate change, are killing coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a World Heritage Site since 1981.

"I was on the Great Barrier Reef, which is the biggest coral reef in the world and you can also have a strong policy to protect a reef like that, but it's the global problems that are going eventually kill the reef, if we don't do anything."

In her new book, 'Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth,' Alanna Mitchell takes readers to one of the world's nearly 500 dead zones.
In her new book, 'Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth,' Alanna Mitchell takes readers to one of the world's nearly 500 dead zones.

Mitchell traveled to ocean hot spots worldwide to see firsthand what is happening to the marine ecosystem. She chronicles her journeys in "Seasick," which earned the 2010 Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.

"I did 13 journeys in two-and-a-half years to different parts of this big, interconnected system that they call the global ocean, I was on ships with scientists trying to figure out what they are learning because they are the ones who are the doctors of the ocean."

Solutions

Mitchell also visited the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar where a local solution has been developed to try to deal with the global problem.

"This is a project set up by a Zanzibari scientist who tries to help the women who live in Zanzibar grow little shell fish so they can either sell them or eat them," says Mitchell. "So maybe this is what our future will be. We'll have fisheries that are much more artisan, much more home grown than these big commercial, industrial fisheries that are harming the population of fish in the ocean."

Mitchell says local initiatives like these, and growing support for more sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of energy, give her hope that there is a way to halt and even reverse the damage we've done to the global ocean.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs