IPCC: Its time to get serious about oceans and climate change

April 1, 2014

marine life soaking up radiation

Two week’s ago we released preliminary results from our marine radiation monitoring work off the coast of Japan, near the melted-down and leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. These results showed worrying levels of radioactive contamination in seaweed – a staple of the Japanese diet.

After having difficulties finding a lab in Japan to do detailed analysis, we sent samples of seaweed, fish, and shellfish collected by our radiation monitoring teams both onshore and on the Rainbow to professional labs in France and Belgium. The results of the details analysis are back – and we can say that the situation in the ocean along the Fukushima coast is worse than we originally thought.

The new data shows that some seaweed contamination levels are not only 50 times higher than safety limits – far higher than our initial measurements showed – but also that the contamination is spreading over a wide area, and accumulating in sea life, rather than simply dispersing like the Japanese authorities originally claimed would happen.

Other samples showed lower than expected concentrations of caesium, but much higher levels of iodine than expected, which raises serious concerns that contaminated water is continually leaking from the nuclear plant.

Iodine has a short half-life of around eight days, comparing to caesium isotopes' half-lives of two years or more. Having higher iodine levels than caesium indicates that there is a significant, ongoing discharge of contaminated water coming from the damaged plant - despite the authorities only officially admitting to three releases into the ocean to date. This could have severe, prolonged effects on the marine ecosystem and all those that rely on it for their livelihoods.

Most of the fish and shellfish we sampled were found to contain levels of radioactivity above legal limits for food contamination, whichis just one of the multiple, chronic sources of radiation exposure those living in the greater Fukushima area are faced with.

In April, the authorities raised official limits for levels of radiation exposure to 20 mSv per year for everyone – including children.  However, this only accounts for external exposure - radioactive materials that are ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin increase exposure and the risk of developing cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.

It is not enough for the authorities to keep putting band-aids on each problem as it appears. The Japanese government must launch a comprehensive, ongoing analysis of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, fully disclose all information about the release of contaminated water, and make proactive protection and compensation efforts to support the people most affected and at risk from this disaster.

You can access all of Greenpeace's radiation testing data from the Fukushima area here » 

Image - Collecting Samples near Fukushima. Left to right: Giorgia Monti of Greenpeace Italy (far left of pic), Sakyo Noda of Greenpeace Japan, Tuomas Heikkila (driving boat), Jacob Namminga (at rear of boat). Crew from the Rainbow Warrior collect sea water and seaweed samples to monitor for radiation contamination levels as the Greenpeace ship sails up the eastern coast of Japan, in the vicinity of Fukushima. 05/05/2011 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace

We all know climate change is the biggest threat facing our world. That is why it is Greenpeaces priority campaign. Todaysreport by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)shighlights the enormousimpacts and consequences climate change is having on our oceans.This must act as a wake-up call for everyone who depends on or cares about our oceans and the vast array of life within them. Save our Seas floating banner Below weve pulled together some of the key messages the IPCC report delivers on oceans.

Climate Change is already affecting our oceans

Climate change alters the physical, chemical, and biological features of the ocean. As we pump CO2 into the atmosphere, its uptake in our oceans is alsomaking them more acidic. This affects many species, including plankton, the basis of ocean food webs. Many of the iconic ocean creatures that we treasure, including baleen whales like humpbacks and blue whales, depend on as plankton as food. So do many of the fish we eat. [caption id="attachment_25320" align="alignnone" width="600"]Plankton sample collected in Libyan waters by the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. Plankton sample collected in Libyan waters by the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.[/caption]

Climate Change makes other things worse

Warming and acidifying waters and rising sea levels make other human impacts on oceans more complicated, or simply worse. They compound issues like overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution, and they make the ocean less resilient to the effects of natural cycles and fluctuations like El Nino.

Climate Change is a threat to food security

Animals tend to be limited in where they can live by basic temperatures and availability of food. Warming waters, changing ocean currents and chemistry mean that we are already seeing species move. Broadly speaking they are moving towards cooler waters the polar regions or deeper seas. That means that tropical countries especially could see fish and crucial food sources declining dramatically from their waters. At the same time, shifting stocks of fish are likely to lead to increased conflict between fishing nations, such as we have already seen on mackerel in the North Atlantic. [caption id="attachment_25321" align="alignnone" width="600"]Artisanal fishermen working in their boat in Black Rivery Bay, Mauritius. Artisanal fishermen working in their boat in Black Rivery Bay, Mauritius.[/caption]

Climate Change means smaller fish

One of the impacts already seen is a fundamental change to the size of sea creatures, making them smaller an impact also seen in overfished areas. This is likely to lead to major shifts in how species interact (who eats who, mostly!) which could have profound and difficult-to-predict impacts on species we depend on.

Climate Change means fewer fish

Some predictions suggest that as well as species shifting, and becoming smaller, that the oceans productivity itself could drop by 9%, and thats in a world with a growing population and increasing demand for food.

Climate Change means more oceanic dead zones

Compounding the effects of nutrient and pollution run-off from land, warming seas are predicted to have more areas starved of oxygen, and devoid of life. This especially true of coastal seas or enclosed areas, such as the Baltic Sea, and has severe consequences for local food supplies and livelihoods

Climate Change hurts most at the poles and the tropics

The impacts of a warming world are already being felt more strongly in these regions, and this will continue. Thats disastrous news for species rich tropical coral reefs, as well as iconic Arctic and Antarctic creatures, which simply may have nowhere left to go. [caption id="attachment_25322" align="alignnone" width="600"]Divers from Silliman University, Coastal Conservation and Education foundation and Greenpeace survey the massive coral damage in Apo Island caused by unprecedented and extreme weather events. The top photo shows healthy coral, while the bottom photo shows damaged and dead coral, both taken at Apo Island, Dauin Negros Oriental. Divers from Silliman University, Coastal Conservation and Education foundation and Greenpeace survey the massive coral damage in Apo Island caused by unprecedented and extreme weather events. The top photo shows healthy coral, while the bottom photo shows damaged and dead coral, both taken at Apo Island, Dauin Negros Oriental.[/caption]

Climate Change is happening, and it is already having huge impacts on our oceans and ocean life. But together we can help limit the damage.

Greenpeaces climate and energy campaign works to accelerate cuts and to eventually phase out climate pollution. Meanwhile, Greenpeaces oceans campaign is working to defend and protect our seas, the amazing life to be found in them, the livelihoods that depend on them, and the future resources they can yield. The less stress oceans face from pollution, overfishing and other human activities, the better they can cope with climate change impacts. One of the strongest yet simplest solutions is to create Ocean Sanctuaries. These are protected areas, off limits to destructive fishing and other activities, which give our oceans a chance to breathe. They need to cover a significant proportion of the ocean to make a difference. By putting areas of ocean off-limits we can protect species and entire habitats. Its about building resilience and giving our seas a fighting chance, whether its the Great Barrier Reef, the High Arctic, or the deep sea. Ocean creatures cant vote or ask politicians to help. But you can, and you can help us supportocean sanctuaries. [caption id="attachment_25347" align="alignnone" width="600"]Shark fin dry on deck of the Japanese longliner Matsuei Maru no 11, South West Indian Ocean. Shark fin dry on deck of the Japanese longliner Matsuei Maru no 11, South West Indian Ocean.[/caption]

Toward resilient oceans

Overfishing and destructive fishing are having a huge impact on our oceans, fundamentally changing them in many parts of the world. Greenpeaces work against illegal fishing, overfishing, and wasteful fishing methods is an effort to keep oceans and the species they host in tact. The connection between fishing practices and climate change is not superficial. Wildlife communities must be healthy and strong if they are going to resist the pressures of climate change. Overfishing is the primary threat to that resilience. Quite simply, we need to do less harm. But in practice that is a huge task, involving work at sea, in ports, with suppliers, markets, and retailers. We need your support to do that. [caption id="attachment_25346" align="alignnone" width="600"]Pole and line fishermen land skip jack tuna in the Maldives. Pole and line fishing is a selective, sustainable and equitable method of catching tuna. Pole and line fishermen land skip jack tuna in the Maldives. Pole and line fishing is a selective, sustainable and equitable method of catching tuna.[/caption] We are working with affected communities across the world. From the Arctic to the Pacific, from Europe to Australia, we have been making alliances, helping give voice to communities and local fishers and taking their concerns directly to those in power. Those alliances matter because local communities have a stake in the future of our seas. By empowering them and making sure their voices are heard, we have a better chance of securing more stable, sustainable, more sensible solutions for an increasingly changing world.

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