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Man and the Last Great Wilderness: Human Impact on the Deep Sea

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      The deep sea, the largest ecosystem on Earth and one of the least studied, harbours high biodiversity and provides a wealth of resources. Although humans have used the oceans for millennia, technological developments now allow exploitation of fisheries resources, hydrocarbons and minerals below 2000 m depth. The remoteness of the deep seafloor has promoted the disposal of residues and litter. Ocean acidification and climate change now bring a new dimension of global effects. Thus the challenges facing the deep sea are large and accelerating, providing a new imperative for the science community, industry and national and international organizations to work together to develop successful exploitation management and conservation of the deep-sea ecosystem. This paper provides scientific expert judgement and a semi-quantitative analysis of past, present and future impacts of human-related activities on global deep-sea habitats within three categories: disposal, exploitation and climate change. The analysis is the result of a Census of Marine Life – SYNDEEP workshop (September 2008). A detailed review of known impacts and their effects is provided. The analysis shows how, in recent decades, the most significant anthropogenic activities that affect the deep sea have evolved from mainly disposal (past) to exploitation (present). We predict that from now and into the future, increases in atmospheric CO 2 and facets and consequences of climate change will have the most impact on deep-sea habitats and their fauna. Synergies between different anthropogenic pressures and associated effects are discussed, indicating that most synergies are related to increased atmospheric CO 2 and climate change effects. We identify deep-sea ecosystems we believe are at higher risk from human impacts in the near future: benthic communities on sedimentary upper slopes, cold-water corals, canyon benthic communities and seamount pelagic and benthic communities. We finalise this review with a short discussion on protection and management methods.

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        Today's surface ocean is saturated with respect to calcium carbonate, but increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are reducing ocean pH and carbonate ion concentrations, and thus the level of calcium carbonate saturation. Experimental evidence suggests that if these trends continue, key marine organisms--such as corals and some plankton--will have difficulty maintaining their external calcium carbonate skeletons. Here we use 13 models of the ocean-carbon cycle to assess calcium carbonate saturation under the IS92a 'business-as-usual' scenario for future emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. In our projections, Southern Ocean surface waters will begin to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite, a metastable form of calcium carbonate, by the year 2050. By 2100, this undersaturation could extend throughout the entire Southern Ocean and into the subarctic Pacific Ocean. When live pteropods were exposed to our predicted level of undersaturation during a two-day shipboard experiment, their aragonite shells showed notable dissolution. Our findings indicate that conditions detrimental to high-latitude ecosystems could develop within decades, not centuries as suggested previously.
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            Author and article information

            [1 ]Institut de Ciències del Mar, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Barcelona, Spain
            [2 ]School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
            [3 ]Institute of Marine Research, Flødevigen, Norway
            [4 ]National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand
            [5 ]Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, México, D.F., Mexico
            [6 ]Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, United States of America
            [7 ]Ifremer, Brest, DEEP/LEP, Plouzane, France
            [8 ]Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
            [9 ]Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, North Carolina, United States of America
            California Academy of Sciences, United States of America
            Author notes

            Conceived and designed the experiments: ERL PAT MCB OAB MRC EE LAL LM AAR CRS CLVD. Wrote the paper: ERL PAT MCB OAB MRC EE LAL LM AAR CRS CLVD.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            1 August 2011
            12 August 2011
            : 6
            : 8
            Ramirez-Llodra et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
            Pages: 25
            Environmental Protection
            Marine Ecology
            Marine Biology
            Fisheries Science
            Marine Conservation
            Marine Ecology
            Marine Monitoring
            Science Policy
            Research Assessment
            Science Education



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