Geographer Spring 2019
The newsletter of
the Royal Scottish Geographical Society
Oceans Under Pressure • David Attenborough in Davos • Gordon Buchanan FRSGS • St Kilda Spectacular, with George Stoyle • Doug Allan’s Blue Arctic • Reefs, Research, Rubbish, and Genetic Resources • Blue Planet, Blue Economy • Mining, Methane and Microplastics • Reader Offer: Into the Silence
“Far and away, the greatest threat to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is ignorance. But we can do something about that.” Dr Sylvia Earle
plus news, books, and more…
overing more than 70% of the surface of our planet, the oceans have long held a fascination for many of us; yet parts like the deeper oceans are less explored than areas of outer space. Their dark depths remain largely a mystery, seemingly home to legends, hot vents, giant squid and weird opalescent creatures. Nearly impenetrable, and subject to up to 1,000 times the pressure at sea level, it is challenging even for unmanned equipment to survive there. Oceans have been much in the news of late, in part due to the impact of the wonderful BBC Blue Planet II series, produced by James Honeyborne, who spoke for RSGS in January, and fronted by Sir David Attenborough, two-times RSGS Medallist and Fellow. This landmark series reminded us of the incredible beauty and variety of our oceans, but also began to highlight the damage it is facing from humanity. Our oceans, despite their incredible size and depth, are beginning to feel the worst effects of our carelessness. Plastic waste, Persistent Organic Pollutants, over-fishing, increasing acidification, thermal expansion and more are all beginning to take a toll on the oceans themselves and on the wildlife that lives there, resulting in crashing populations, poisoning and bleaching. And yet, despite our heightened awareness, the threats continue to mount, with the advent of deep sea mining of minerals and clathrates, and increasing acidification and sea level rise. The need for research is critical, to inform and evidence the need for protections and international agreement. Scotland has a strong tradition of interest in the oceans, dating particularly from the Challenger expedition of the 1870s, with pioneers like Charles Wyville Thomson and RSGS President Sir John Murray, and Medallists like Prince Albert of Monaco, ‘Prince of the Sea’, a friend and mentor to William Speirs Bruce, in the early 1900s. Scotland also contains some very beautiful sea-life of its own; we are grateful to award-winning underwater photographer George Stoyle for his stunning images which adorn the front cover and the centre spread. Thanks also to Fellows Doug Allan and Dr Hermione Cockburn for their help with this edition, and to Professor Michael Pacione, who first proposed the idea of a magazine on ‘oceans under pressure’, and who has provided articles and images.
In late December, Alice Thompson, the co-founder (with Josh Littlejohn) of Social Bite, received her Livingstone Medal. It was presented for her contribution to relieving homelessness in Scotland and raising the profile of the issue across the country.
Geography Day Our annual Geography Day is on the horizon. The theme for the event has yet to be decided, but we can guarantee lots of inspiration in the form of talks, displays, and 15th June collections items on show. The date for your diary is Saturday 15th June 2019. Tickets and further announcements will be released in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on our social media and sign up to our e-newsletter to keep abreast of any news!
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Fair Maid’s House 2019 Our visitor centre will be open from Saturday 6th April to Saturday 26th October 2019 for a range of exciting exhibitions and informative displays. This year we are varying the days of opening, but the hours of opening will remain the same. As always, we require the support of volunteers to keep the doors open, so if you might be interested then please contact enquiries@ rsgs.org or call 01738 455050 to find out more.
visit or volunteer
Fair Maid’s House Opening Times 2019 April, May, June – Thursday to Saturday – 1:00pm to 4:30pm July, August – Monday to Friday – 1:00pm to 4:30pm September, October – Thursday to Saturday – 1:00pm to 4:30pm
I leave the final word to Ocean Elder, and legendary diver and ocean advocate, Sylvia Earle: “We need to take care of the oceans and respect them as if our lives depend on them. Because they do.”
Mike Robinson, Chief Executive, RSGS RSGS, Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU tel: 01738 455050 email: email@example.com
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www.rsgs.org Charity registered in Scotland no SC015599 The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the RSGS. Cover image: Post-larval monkfish. © George Stoyle Masthead: © George Stoyle
RSGS: a better way to see the world
L-R: Marjorie Kerr, SAGT President; Louis Rossi, St Margaret’s HS, Airdrie; Eleanor Service, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s HS, East Kilbride; Matthew Clark, Millburn Academy, Inverness; Lachie Fingland, McLaren HS, Callander; Dr Charles Warren, SAGT Honorary President.
Every year the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers (SAGT) presents awards to the highest achieving candidates in the SQA Higher and Advanced Higher Geography examinations. In January, a ceremony was held at the RSGS headquarters, at which Dr Charles Warren, Honorary President of SAGT and joint Editor of the Scottish Geographical Journal, presented pupils with a card, a voucher and an atlas kindly donated by Harper Collins.
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Animal Families & Me In early January, BBC wildlife presenter Gordon Buchanan wowed a packed house at Perth Theatre with a talk entitled Animal Families & Me. The 400-strong audience were left spellbound by his close encounters with some of the most iconic animals on Planet Earth, from brown bears in Minnesota, to wolves in the Canadian Arctic, to elephants in Kenya. Following the talk, Gordon was welcomed into a new family – the family of the RSGS, as an Honorary Fellow. This prestigious honour was conferred for his inspirational contribution to nature, environment and wildlife through his work on a range of series such as Big Cat Diaries, Last Chance to See… and, most recently, Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me which aired over Christmas.
Young Geographer magazine
The 12 members of the Young Geographer Editorial Board.
In January and February, we held the first two meetings of our new Young Geographer Editorial Board. The theme of their magazine will be the Arctic, to tie in with the Scottish Government’s current policy work in the region. In the coming months, with support from RSGS staff, the Editorial Board will be commissioning a series of articles on Arctic issues, and designing a modern and informative magazine to distribute to RSGS contacts in Scotland and beyond. Following the first Board meeting, Eilidh Watson, a PhD Geography candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University, was chosen to be the overall Editor of this new edition. We look forward to working with Eilidh and the rest of her team as this exciting project gathers pace, and we are very grateful to the Scottish Government and the Gannochy Trust for their financial support.
RSGS in Oman
The Connecting Cultures course is a UNESCO-sponsored trek for young people through the Omani desert, hosted and developed by Outward Bound Oman together with RSGS Honorary Fellow Mark Evans. We have been a proud partner of the Connecting Cultures course for some time now, and have sent several British representatives to take part in this incredible opportunity over the past few years. In January, it was the turn of local RSGS volunteers Ellie Kirkland and Hannah Fieldsend to join the girls’ trip, and for Drew Christie, Cameron Watson and Patrick Godden to join the boys’ trip, along with our Communications Officer James Cave who was there as a representative of the Society. For all involved, the trip was a life-changing journey in a completely new and challenging environment. And since returning, each participant has been busy spreading their learnings back home. In particular, Hannah Fieldsend gave a wonderful presentation prior to Benedict Allen’s Inspiring People talk in Edinburgh, and Ellie Kirkland and James Cave were thrilled to speak on BBC Radio Scotland’s John Beattie show.
2 SPRING 2019
Arctic Day Following on from the theme of our last magazine, the Scottish Government’s first ‘Arctic Day’ will take place at Eden Court, Inverness, on Monday 25th March 2019. The event aims to bring together researchers, entrepreneurs, students, artists, practitioners, volunteers and policy-makers from across Scotland for lectures and workshops, as well as to further conversations on Scottish-Arctic links and explore opportunities for even deeper cooperation with our Arctic neighbours. Representatives from the RSGS network will be in 25th attendance, including members of March the new Young Geographer Editorial Board. The event is free and open to the public; tickets will be made available via Eventbrite.
Canadian connections John Geiger FRSGS, Chief Executive of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, met with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in February during her international visit to Ottawa. We are pleased that our network was able to facilitate this engagement.
Surge from electronic media follow The growth of our social media has been a source us of great encouragement of late, and its success is evidenced by the surge in advance tickets being ordered online for RSGS talks. Indeed, in just the five weeks after New Year, ten of our talks were completely sold out – gratifying for both RSGS and speakers! Likewise, our monthly e-newsletter has seen a steady rise in subscribers over recent months, and we’d like to encourage you to join this mailing list if you haven’t already. It’s a one-stop-shop for all the Society’s latest news, stories and inspiration, and provides important information regarding upcoming talks and speakers. You can sign up for the newsletter on our website homepage, and you can follow the Royal Scottish Geographical Society on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Since receiving our Mungo Park Medal in Glasgow in 2018, the pilots of Solar Impulse, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, have joined forces with the Scottish Government and are now working towards a Memorandum of Understanding. As part of this partnership, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon committed £1 million of Scottish Government funding to support the Solar Impulse Foundation’s efforts to identify 1,000 solutions that will protect the environment while also returning a profit.
Trouble in Tibet
April Rapid changes are affecting Tibet, the ‘roof of the world’, and for Jane Qiu, Beijing-based award-winning journalist, it’s something she has experienced firsthand, having just returned from a 3,000mile journey from the fringe of the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa in the Tibetan heartland. Now, in a special talk at our offices in Perth at 6.30pm on Tuesday 16th April, Jane will explore these changes and their human implications, including threats to grasslands, major water resources in Asia, and an ancient carbon storage. Tickets available via Eventbrite: £10 standard, £7 for RSGS Members.
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Diffuse pollution conference The oceans are often the end-point 27th-31st October for diffuse pollutants, be they microplastics or toxic metals. International perspectives on diffuse pollution and on the mitigation measures to address it will be explored in a unique gathering this year of scientists, engineers and practitioners in Jeju Island, South Korea. The occasion is the 19th International Conference on Diffuse Pollution and Eutrophication Specialist Group of the International Water Association, to be held 27th-31st October 2019. See www.iwadipcon2019. org for details.
Towards the end of 2018, the active-travel charity Sustrans published Bike Life, a comprehensive assessment of city cycling development in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth, including infrastructure, travel behaviour, satisfaction, the impact of cycling, and new initiatives. As a supporter of sustainable transport solutions, our Chief Executive Mike Robinson was delighted to represent the RSGS and the City of Perth in this report. Adding his voice to those calling for infrastructure improvements, he said, “We are fortunate in Perth to have a high-quality environment, fantastic natural assets and an active population, but unless cycling is made safer the shift won’t happen.”
Solar Impulse in Scotland
Climate literacy qualification Over the last three years, as a follow-on from our work on the Bitesize conference, the RSGS has been developing a climate literacy qualification for senior managers. This has moved ahead well, with support from the Scottish Government and by working closely with two key universities and several business and related organisations. The qualification consists of three online modules followed by a full-day training course; it will provide managers with a good basic understanding of the relevance of climate change to their industries, the basic science and, most importantly, the many solutions that are being proposed. Participants will be encouraged to detail how they, and their organisations, can deliver the solutions. Professors from the University of Stirling and the University of Edinburgh Business and Geography Schools are working with RSGS to author the content, and a full pilot will run from May over the summer. Please contact enquiries@rsgs. org if you would like to find out more or would be interested in participating in the pilot.
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We have posted several new blogs on our website (rsgs.org), including a reflection on the Katowice Climate Conference by our Chief Executive Mike Robinson, a Christmas story by our Writer-in-Residence Jo Woolf, an overview of the Iolaire Disaster 100 years on by Collections Team volunteer Kenny Maclean, and a whistle-stop tour of the Society’s glass lantern slides by Jane Griffiths, one of our newest volunteers in the office, plus many more.
Bartholomew family holidays Margaret Wilkes FRSGS, RSGS Collections Committee Chair With the forthcoming centenary in 2020 of the death of one of RSGS’s co-founders – world-famous mapmaker and Cartographer Royal, Dr John George Bartholomew (18601920) – we are much indebted to his great-grandson, John Eric Bartholomew, for arranging the donation of a copy of Bartholomew Family Holiday Journals 1906-1913, edited by John George’s grandson Alick Bartholomew, and published in 2015. The handover of this book to the Society took place in the grounds of former Falcon Hall in Edinburgh’s Morningside, where John George Bartholomew and family lived from 1899 to 1907.
Trinidadian research trip In 2018 we helped support RSGS volunteer Erin Fowler on a geographical research trip to Trinidad with the University of Glasgow Exploration Society. A summary of this exciting research adventure, which discusses sea turtles, bats and the local Caribbean street food, is now available on our blog at rsgs.org/ geographical-research-in-trinidad.
The Out of Work Adventure Last September, our Communications Officer James set off on his grandest adventure to date: a pizza, pasta and pesto-powered pedal across Italy! Travelling from Pescara in southeast Italy to the mountains of the French Alps, he once again took the office iPad to film this tasty journey for the Society. And in January, James heard the exciting news that his film (available to view at www.youtube. com/watch?v=FUFKjpbXnFE) had been officially selected for the 10th Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival which tours across the USA this spring. He’s even got the laurels to prove it…
One Ocean Hub The Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) is to lead an ambitious £20 million, five-year programme – the UKRI GCRF One Ocean Hub – aimed at transforming the global response to cumulative, urgent threats to the ocean. Professor Elisa Morgera and Dr Daniela Diz will serve as Directors of the Hub, which will involve more than 50 partners in Africa, South Pacific and the Caribbean, including world-leading research centres, governmental, nongovernmental and community organizations, as well as multiple UN agencies. See www.strath.ac.uk/research/ strathclydecentreenvironmentallawgovernance/oneoceanhub for more information.
Seven Hours, a Rubber Dinghy, and a Shipwreck!
Best of the blog
On 18th September March 1902, the Dundee whaler Nova Zembla ran aground on one of the most remote stretches of the Baffin Island coast. Soon forgotten, it was left on a desolate and unreachable coastline, high in the frozen Arctic. In early 2018, however, this all changed. Whilst researching at the Arctic Institute of North America, Dr Matthew Ayre uncovered a first-hand account of the Nova Zembla’s loss, and soon began piecing together other historical clues about the wreck’s position. Less than six months later, Matthew and his colleagues led a Royal Canadian Geographical Society search party to this remote Arctic coastline. But there was a slight problem: they had only a seven-hour window to find the missing shipwreck. To find out what happened, come along to RSGS HQ at 6.30pm on Monday 25th March to hear a first-hand account from Matthew about this fascinating adventure into the past. Tickets available via Eventbrite: £10 standard, £7 for RSGS Members.
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Honorary Fellows join network We were delighted to welcome Adrian Shaw (left) and David Spaven (right) into our network of Honorary Fellows in January. Adrian, Climate Change Officer for the Church of Scotland, has engaged congregations across Scotland on climate change throughout his career, and has encouraged their not insubstantial voice to be heard both nationally and internationally. David has dedicated his life to improving rail connectivity and infrastructure, and developing sustainable transport solutions across Scotland. Both are trusted and wellrespected voices in the sustainability arena, and are often called upon to advise and guide policy. Over the years, they have both been keen supporters of the RSGS, writing for our magazine and including the Society in their networks.
4 SPRING 2019
A Refuweegee welcome
“Welcome to Glasgow! May you be happy here! The people are friendly, even if the weather is not!”
In February, students from Perth Academy attended an adventure training session at RSGS HQ in preparation for their upcoming World Challenge expedition to Indonesia. Following a series of team-building exercises, the 12 participants were introduced to bag-packing, the fundamentals of food hygiene, and ideas on how to record their experiences, plus much more. The panel of instructors also spoke about some of the lessons learned from their past adventures. We are thankful to our Explorers-in-Residence Luke and Hazel Robertson, and RSGS volunteers Craig Borthwick and Jan Wilmington from Venture Medical, for making this evening such a success.
For a refugee arriving in Glasgow to receive this message ‘fae a local’, along with a helpful pack to welcome them to the city, is a simple act of kindness to greet newcomers as they settle in what is surely the world’s friendliest city! This powerful idea was the brainchild of Selina Hales (left), the founder and director of Refuweegee, a community-led charity whose sole purpose is to make people who have been forcibly displaced and settled in Glasgow feel welcome and appreciated. In January, RSGS Board Member Vanessa Collingridge welcomed Selina into our community of Honorary Fellows, for demonstrating how thoughtfulness at the local level can slowly but effectively make the world a better, more compassionate place.
RSGS Knowledge Exchange Grants We are pleased to announce that the RSGS Knowledge Exchange Grants 2019 are open for applications. With a value in the range £200-£1,000, the awards are aimed at current and recent PhD students to communicate geographical research and facilitate impact. Further details, including how to apply, can be found on our website. The deadline for applications is Friday 12th April.
Education breadth The RSGS has been deeply concerned about a narrowing of subject choice in schools, and about some of the impacts of budget cuts and curriculum change on Geography. In our discussions with a broad range of education bodies and practitioners, there seems to be a widely held belief that the curriculum has narrowed significantly, that pupils in different schools and local authority areas are not getting the same opportunities, and that some of the earlier years of secondary school do not provide sufficient challenge or focus. We have responded to the recent Scottish Government consultation, and will continue to meet with senior civil servants to help move this discussion forward.
Ian Hogarth FRSGS (1928-2018) We are sorry to report the death of Ian Hogarth in December, aged 90. Ian had been a loyal and enthusiastic Member of the RSGS since October 1959, and was a great supporter of our work. Amongst other things, for many years he was Treasurer of our Edinburgh Group, where he exuded geniality as he welcomed people to our public talks. In recognition of his distinguished contribution, he was awarded Honorary Fellowship in 2000. Ian lived an amazingly full life, dedicating his working life to the coal-mining industry of Scotland, as a mining engineer, and participating fully in the cultural life of the country through his interest in music, opera, geology and geography. He was a keen traveller, visiting Canada as a student, Soviet Russia in the 1960s, and Europe, Asia, the Far East, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand after retirement. We have been notified that Ian named the RSGS as a beneficiary of his Will, and we are most grateful that he has remembered us.
Fundraising for RSGS In December, a small group of RSGS Board Members and other volunteers met to consider the RSGS’s ‘case for support’ – essentially, a compelling argument for why our work merits funding. Their meeting was facilitated by a professional agency which helps charities to develop fundraising plans. We hope this will lead to enhanced fundraising activity and increased philanthropic income to support the RSGS into the future. This is viewed as a critical next step for RSGS, if we are to successfully build on the achievements of the last decade. Throughout our 135-year history we have always relied on donations and occasional legacies and other gifts, and if the Society is to continue to thrive and build, it is essential we begin to secure some of these for the future. RSGS Chair Roger Crofts said, “We need to convert the vast amounts of good will and excitement we have generated over the past few years into financial support if we are going to continue to thrive. This will require more targeted approaches to potential external donors, to all long-standing Members, and to other sources to support our ambitious programme of work over the next decade. I hope that Members, as the bedrock of the Society, will feel able to help.”
Blue Planet II With sponsorship from the Open University in Scotland, we were delighted to welcome the BBC’s Blue Planet II to the Central Belt in mid-January, as Executive Producer and creator of the show James Honeyborne spoke in Edinburgh and Glasgow. And with media interest from The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, The Sunday Post and BBC Radio Scotland, there was no surprise that over 700 people turned up to hear the behind-the-scenes stories and science from the series across the two events.
Electrifying drive In January, the Kia e-Niro was named the What Car? Car of the Year 2019, becoming the first electric car to win the award. What Car? editor Steve Huntingford said the e-Niro “addresses the key issues of cost and range that have traditionally prevented many motorists from taking the plunge into EV ownership.” Kia UK boss Paul Philpott commented, “This marks an important milestone in the awards as we approach the tipping point where every motorist will be seriously considering buying an electric car as their next car.”
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Original artwork for sale
The Garden of Eden is no more Revered broadcaster, naturalist and Scottish Geographical Medallist Sir David Attenborough gave this speech on his receipt of a 2019 Crystal Award, at a ceremony held during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January.
I am quite literally from another age. I was born during the Holocene – the name given by scientists to the 12,000-year period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm and create civilisations. Those conditions fostered our unique minds, giving © World Economic Forum, Manuel Lopez rise to international trade in ideas as well as goods, and making us the globally-connected species that we are today.
Rob Hain’s fabulous original artwork of Perth, The Fair City, is available to buy. Full of life, colour and fun, the framed painting measures 136cm x 96cm, and is going for £9,500, of which a proportion will go towards the charitable aims of the RSGS. Please contact us on 01738 455050 if you are interested in acquiring this unique and very special item!
Good Food Nation Following on from our summer 2018 magazine on building a Good Food Nation, a consultation on this issue has been launched by the Scottish Government. You can submit your comments until 29th March via www.gov.scot. In addition, we have been invited to co-chair an inquiry into Food, Agriculture and Climate Change with the National Farming Union of Scotland. We hope our policy work in this area can continue to make a real difference in Scotland and beyond.
Legacies For many charities, including the RSGS, one of the most valuable sources of funding is legacies. Our achievements over the past century and more have been greatly aided by money gifted by RSGS Members and supporters in their Wills. Particularly generous legacy gifts of money, or even property, have often kept the Society going through lean times, allowing us to continue, to develop and to grow. We are fortunate to have an extremely loyal membership, with hundreds of Members who have been with us for decades. Yet, because we have at times been perceived as ‘just a talks programme’, when some long-standing Members feel they are unable to come to talks any more, they withdraw from the Society and our relationship ends. We hope to persuade them to consider supporting us well into the future, with a charitable legacy. In this time of uncertainty and change, we think it is vital to have continuity and familiarity; the RSGS, with its rich heritage and forward-looking ambition, can deliver this in spades! But we need help to do so. As a small charity, our needs are relatively modest; not only can legacies can make more of a difference to us than to a large charity, but any legacy of £10,000 or more can significantly improve our finances. Please, consider helping the RSGS into the future by remembering us in your Will. please consider
leaving a legacy to RSGS
Much of what will be discussed here is the consequence of that stability. Global businesses, international cooperation and the striving for ideals – these are all possible because for millennia, on a global scale, nature has been largely predictable and stable. Now in the space of one human lifetime – indeed in the space of my lifetime – all that has changed. The Holocene has ended. The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say that we are now in a new geological age – the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. When you think about it, there is perhaps no more unsettling thought. The only conditions modern humans have ever known so far are changing, and changing fast. It’s tempting and understandable to ignore the evidence and carry on as usual, or to be filled with gloom and doom. But there is also a vast potential for what we might do. We need to move beyond guilt or blame and get on with the practical tasks in hand. We didn’t get to this point deliberately; it has happened astonishingly quickly. When I made my first television programmes, most of the audiences had never seen a pangolin – indeed, few pangolins had ever seen a television camera! But when in 1979 I made a series tracing the history of life on Earth, I was aware of environmental problems but I didn’t imagine that we were fundamentally changing nature. In 1999, whilst making the Blue Planet series about marine life, we filmed coral bleaching, but I still didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the damage that had already started. Now, however, we have evidence, knowledge and the ability to share it on a scale unimaginable even just a few years ago. Movements and ideas can spread at astonishing speed. The audience for that first series, 60 years ago, was restricted to just a few million viewers in southern England. My next series, Our Planet, which is about to be launched here, will go instantly to hundreds of millions of people in almost every country on Earth via Netflix. And the evidence supporting the series will be free to view by everybody with an internet connection via WWF. If people can truly understand what is at stake, I believe that they will give permission to business and governments to get on with the practical solutions. And, as a species, we are expert problem solvers. But we haven’t yet applied ourselves to this problem with the focus that it requires. We can create a world with clean air and water, unlimited energy, and fish stocks that will sustain us well into the future. But to do that, we need a plan. Over the next two years, there will be United Nations decisions on Climate Change, Sustainable Development and a New Deal for Nature. Together, these will form our species’ plan for a route through the Anthropocene. What we do now, and in the next few years, will profoundly affect the next few thousand years. I look forward very much to the discussions and insights that will go on here this week, and I thank you again for this very great honour.
6 SPRING 2019
Oceans under pressure
Exploring the oceans
Professor Michael Pacione MA PhD DSc FRSGS, Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Strathclyde
Steve Hall CMarSci FIMarEST, Chief Executive, Society for Underwater
The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the Earth’s water. For centuries people have regarded the ocean as an inexhaustible source of food and a convenient dumping ground for waste, too vast to be affected by human actions. But now our oceans face an uncertain future.
Humans have explored, fought, traded across and fished the global ocean since the days of our earliest ancestors, but it’s only in the last 100 years or so that technological advances have given us the ability to reach every part of the ocean, from the deepest trenches in the Pacific to the frozen waters of polar regions. The cutting edge of exploration is using robot explorers and advanced sensors that enable data and images to be obtained quickly from any location, at relatively low cost, and with no risk to a human crew if anything malfunctions at depth. There are still many gaps in our knowledge, and the deep ocean in particular is home to a rarely-visited ecosystem that constantly provides surprises.
We know that: • t he ocean regulates our climate and drives the weather; • oceans absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, helping to mitigate anthropogenic global warming and climate change; • 60% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast; • nearly three billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein; • fisheries and aquaculture provide livelihoods for 12% of the world’s population; • oceans are global trading highways; • one-third of oil and gas is derived from offshore ocean resources; • oceans offer opportunities for renewable energy from wind, wave and tides; • the biodiversity of ocean and coral reef ecosystems has led to discovery of new medicines including anti-cancer drugs; • 80% of all tourism is based near the sea. But do we realise that: •p opulations of fish species utilised by humans have fallen by half over recent decades; • 29% of marine fisheries are overfished; • tropical reefs have lost more than half their reef-building corals over the past 30 years; • seabed mining licences cover 1.2 million square kilometres of the ocean floor; • more than five trillion plastic pieces weighing more than 250,000 tonnes are in the sea, and the amount is rising; • ship traffic has quadrupled over the past two decades; • oxygen depleted dead zones are growing as a result of eutrophication caused by nutrient runoff; • despite the UN Law of the Sea, ownership of the world’s oceans and their resources remains open to debate; • increasing recreational development is impacting on coastal and ocean ecosystems; • less than 4% of the world’s oceans are under any form of protection? Most of the pressure on our oceans is due to anthropogenic factors. Our modern lifestyle has adverse consequences for marine environments and ecosystems. We must change our ways and move away from unsustainable exploitation of the oceans to more responsible use of what is now widely acknowledged to be a fragile and finite resource. Change is necessary not only for planetary health but for the future health and wellbeing of humankind. If we fail to meet the challenge of change, we risk destroying the ocean ecosystems on which we depend for our very existence.
Reef sharks. © Professor Michael Pacione
It’s true that we have higher-resolution maps of the surface of Mars and the Moon than we do of the deep ocean floor. This shouldn’t be a surprise as it’s technically much harder to see through an ocean, where radio waves have poor penetration, than it is to map solid surfaces by radar or photographs from orbit. When the first transatlantic telegraph cables were laid in the mid-19th century, the presence of large mountains and valleys down the middle General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) World M of the Atlantic had come as a surprise to the surveyors. Soundings could only be taken then with weighted lines, and it wasn’t until the invention of echo sounders in the 20th century, enhanced by advances made in two world wars, that good quality charts of the ocean floor began to be compiled, with data from seabed fossil magnetism proving to geologists that plate tectonics was real, and still very active. The trend towards establishing 200-mile ‘exclusive economic zones’ since the 1970s encouraged many nations to fund surveys of their offshore territories, with detailed work also carried out to explore the areas where submarines played hide and seek during the Cold War years. One of the drivers to learn more about the detailed shape of the ocean floor is the need to lay fibre-optic cables across the seabed via direct but low-risk routes, to carry internet traffic. People don’t always appreciate that their cat videos, movies and financial transactions are carried by subsea cables, which offer far higher bandwidth and speed than satellites. Hydrocarbons obtained from reservoirs beneath coastal waters have provided a bounty of energy to humanity, at the cost of rising levels of greenhouse gases, and changing the pH of the ocean as carbon is dissolved into the water. It lends urgency to the need to decarbonise our society, in part by transitioning to electric-powered transportation and heating systems, fuelled by low-carbon sources of energy – some of which, like tidal, wind and wave energy, are themselves derived from the ocean. Electric motors and batteries require
cobalt, tungsten and ‘rare earth metals’ including neodymium and gallium, which are also needed to build digital electronic devices. Exploratory sampling has shown that the deep ocean floor has extensive deposits of minerals that are becoming scarce on land, and we can expect to see the start of mining for these metals in coming years. With little known about deep ocean ecosystems, more research is needed to understand how we can mine resources with minimal harm to lifeforms that have rarely needed to co-exist with human industry.
The global demand for protein has led to widespread overexploitation of wild fish stocks, but the problem is well understood and in many parts of the world effective efforts are now being made to ensure that wild stocks are harvested at a sustainable rate. The tonnage of marine protein from wildcaught stock has already been overtaken by production from aquaculture, and this trend will continue Map 2014, www.gebco.net as we move from approaching the ocean as if we were still hunter-gatherers, into approaching it as farmers – albeit perhaps 10,000 years after we started to do so on land!
long-endurance AUVs designed to inspect and survey seabed installations, collect Healthy coral. © Professor Michael Pacione oceanographic data or, in their military guises, stealthily track submarines, chart minefields, and carry out clandestine operations. As battery technology improves and ways are found to clean filters and self-maintain without a human crew, the utility of marine robots is improving all the time; indeed, the technology is evolving faster than the legal and policy frameworks that govern how we work at sea. For example, it’s easy to arm an autonomous underwater vehicle, but how does it communicate with base for permission before launching an attack? A submerged robot has no bandwidth to do that. It shows that as well as careers for engineers and scientists, rapidly evolving ocean technology has plenty to offer for lawyers and policy makers too.
“The robots have evolved from experimental programmes in the 1980s into reliable devices that are becoming the workhorses of the ocean science community.”
Access to ocean riches has historically been largely unregulated, but with increasing competition from different sectors and nations to limited areas of marine space, the need for marine spatial planning is emerging, and a number of countries including the UK, via Marine Scotland and the Marine Management Organisation, are designing new frameworks for management, licensing and oversight of marine activities including the establishment of networks of marine protected areas. You can’t manage what you haven’t measured, so there’s an accompanying requirement for affordable means of gathering data – ships are brilliant platforms but expensive to buy and operate, and there aren’t enough of them. Some parameters can be measured from space, such as tracking fishing vessels, spotting harmful algal blooms and measuring ocean temperature and wave height, but to analyse ocean chemistry, or to obtain data from below the surface you need sensors and instrumentation up close. The answer is the growing fleet of marine autonomous systems – robots of all shapes and sizes ranging from devices that would fit in the palm of your hand through to remote-controlled boats and large autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that can dive to 6,000m and stay there for months at a time. The robots have evolved from experimental programmes in the 1980s into reliable devices that are becoming the workhorses of the ocean science community. At the simplest end of the scale are neutrally-buoyant floats, which drift along on ocean currents for years, descending to a couple of thousand metres depth, measuring temperature and salinity before surfacing, radioing home the data, and descending for another fortnight deep below the waves. At the leading edge of innovation are large,
Sensors and instrumentation are improving every few months, with ‘lab on a chip’ technology enabling even quite small robots to be able to conduct serious ocean chemistry analysis. Soon it will be possible to mount environmental DNA (e-DNA) sensors on board too, which will enable robots to identify the species of marine life that live in the waters through which they sail. Perhaps the ultimate adventure for the new breed of machines is the exploration of the oceans of other worlds. Observations suggest that Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, have oceans of water beneath thick covers of ice, complete with the geothermal activity that on Earth is associated with rich ecosystems in the mid-ocean ridges. It’s a daunting technical challenge to deliver a robot, get through the ice and start exploring – but add sensors, microphones and cameras, and imagine what might be discovered? Perhaps a simpler challenge will be Saturn’s moon Titan, which has hydrocarbon seas but lacks a thick cover of ice. Titan is perfectly aligned for a mission in 2047: today’s schoolchildren could be the first to send a mission beneath the ethane sea of an alien world.
Bluestripe snappers. © Professor Michael Pacione
8 SPRING 2019
The open ocean Jessica Battle, Marine Manager, WWF International
The open ocean is an amazing place, and most of it is beyond the laws of a single state. Indeed, it belongs to everyone, and to WWF this means it is the responsibility of all states to ensure its marine life and important role in the natural world are maintained and restored.
paradigm of cooperation, based on the idea that, in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the ocean belongs to everyone. The emerging treaty is an important and long-awaited opportunity to establish an integrated framework to manage all existing and new activities as a whole, thus ensuring the conservation of marine ecosystems and species. An effective treaty must include all uses of the oceans, such as fishing, shipping, seabed mining, cable laying and bioprospecting, as well as the protection of marine life in these vast areas that belong to everyone. It needs to be open to include also any emerging uses going forward, so it is useful many years after it enters into force.
“We need to ensure that ocean life in all its forms is conserved and used sustainably.”
The ocean beyond national jurisdiction of states – commonly known as the High Seas – is managed via a patchwork of international agreements that each cover only a sector or a region, and none that provide a comprehensive system for protecting the marine environment, its species and habitats. Some activities, such as cable laying (so important for our internetbased economies and communications systems of today), are not covered by any agreement or management arrangement at all. In light of increasing activities in these areas, and the impacts of relatively new problems such as plastic pollution, there is an urgent need to ensure all human activities in this area are managed through a holistic approach that has biodiversity (ocean life) and ecosystem functions (services to humanity) at its heart. Governments have recognised the problem of fragmentation and gaps in how ocean space and resource management is done. The UN therefore launched negotiations for a new global and legally binding ocean treaty to take a more holistic approach to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond the national jurisdiction of coastal states. We now have an historic opportunity to improve how oceans are governed and managed across scales and uses, and how marine biodiversity is conserved, through the development of this new treaty. As a civil society organisation, WWF is actively engaged in the negotiation conference. The current patchwork business-as-usual will not lead to healthy oceans. A new approach is needed. Traditionally, the ocean beyond coastal state national jurisdiction belonged to no one. This worked well when the principal consideration was to ensure the safe passage of shipborne trade, fish resources were considered limitless and oceans too big to pollute. But this old approach does not serve conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in an ever-increasingly crowded ocean space. We now need a new
© George Stoyle
In order to ensure the ocean can be a provider of ecosystem services into the future, we need to ensure that ocean life in all its forms is conserved and used sustainably. A central part is how to establish marine protected areas, to conserve marine life. To be effective in establishing a holistic oversight framework, all states need to join and become a party to it. Wide participation by states in the treaty is important to ensure a level playing field, so that unscrupulous operators of fishing boats, merchant ships or other vessels cannot choose a less responsible flag state with less stringent rules due to nonparticipation in the treaty. In turn, this needs the treaty itself to be adopted by consensus, so that all states are equally committed to the results of their negotiating efforts. The oceans are interconnected – many say in fact we only have one ocean – but they are also connected to land and all that happens there. As such the treaty, if strong enough with universal participation in its implementation, can help provide food security and livelihoods in areas of the planet where this is most dependent upon ocean health, mainly in the developing world. If we are successful in pushing sustainable development and conservation in the treaty negotiations, so that governments incorporate these in their national positions and into the treaty, almost half of the planet can be granted stronger regulations and a holistic ocean governance framework within which we can effectively conserve marine life into the future. That is worth fighting for, is it not?
The Blue Economy Gunter Pauli, founder of Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives (ZERI)
A decade ago, my report to the Club of Rome under the title The Blue Economy: 100 innovations, 10 years, 100 million jobs sketched out a vision. This vision was based on an understanding that we can build on the ingenuity of ecosystems that provide a wealth of products and services on which life depends, and then strengthen social systems that build up culture, tradition and social capital. This provides resilience in adverse times and joy in better moments of our lives. It permits us to learn how to live within obvious limits of the planet, while evolving from scarcity to abundance with what we have. We must shift from traditional business and economic development, which builds on globalization and efforts of enterprises to reduce costs and search for ever higher economies of scale, to a more sustainable and competitive ‘Blue Economy’ that gives value to local resources. The ‘invisible hand’: the existing economic model is flawed There are fundamental shortcomings in the existing economic model. When companies adhere to short-term objectives, void of social and environmental considerations, The Commons are exploited (as we do with excessive consumption of water) or they become a place to release our excesses (as we do with the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere). The Commons include biodiversity, drinking water, the supply of oxygen in the air, the availability of grazing land for herds, the evolutionary and symbiotic path of biodiversity, the cycling of nutrients, the build-up of top soil, and so much more.
The way forward: leadership and political will To move in this direction, three things will be key. First, the principles that guide management are only offering value to 10% of harvested and processed natural resources; 90% ends up as waste. We consume only 0.2% of the coffee bean, and weeds are considered the wrong plant in the wrong place, only to be subjected to herbicides. And once the product is manufactured, how can enterprises defend shipping wheat, butter, sugar and milk around the globe to bake cookies which are also shipped around the world? Second, the present production, distribution and consumption patterns do not recognise a vast portfolio of opportunities that would come from smarter use of our resources. In 2018 I wrote Plan A: The Transformation of the Argentinian Economy with ten new industrial sectors for Argentina. We called it Plan A, because there is no Plan (nor planet) B. It is essential that the EU institutions continue the work on the circular economy and lift the standards and the norms beyond the macroeconomic generalities.
“A transition from petrochemistry to biochemistry is an enormous opportunity with many winners.”
In the past decades, there have been more efforts to create business models that can respond to the basic needs, ensure thriving Commons, and offer a financial return. We should stop pretending that the invisible hand will guide us, and rather make a conscious decision to stop the exploitation of The Commons. The logic is the same as with stealing. Stealing less, is still stealing! Polluting less, is still polluting! But sustainability and competitiveness can be two sides of the same coin. For example, a transition from petrochemistry to biochemistry is an enormous opportunity with many winners. It can speed up the shift towards the bio-economy with a strong impact in the regions where this transformation takes place. For example, we might convert low-value materials like straw or ‘weeds’ such as the thistle (cardoon), recognized as the national flower of Scotland, into bioplastics and functional products that generate a high value; this would create jobs, inject cash into the local economy, and help to address a major challenge of today: plastic pollution. This has been implemented in Italy and we wonder why not in Scotland? Bioplastics degrade in soil, sun and sea, replenish farmland, regenerate the local economy and reduce emissions – a prime example of a circular economy that also clusters agriculture and chemistry, generates higher value and increases Europe’s competitiveness.
© Chris Masterton
Third, plastic pollution is a concrete challenge. Plastics in the sea and in our body have caught broad attention with images of fish, turtles, birds and even whales suffering dramatic deaths because of polymers. Compostable materials can be made of readily available biological raw materials, which do not compete with food, including straw and weeds, able to regenerate soil. Political institutions can choose to protect the old system, or embrace new paths respecting the ecosystem. They can choose growth of the local economy, or only pay lip service at global fora to the bio-economy and circular economy. If Scotland wishes to spearhead a new economy, then this will require an act of leadership.
ZERI is a global network of creative minds seeking solutions to world challenges. Gunter Pauli is the author of The Blue Economy; see www. TheBlueEconomy.org or follow @MyBlueEconomy for more information.
10 SPRING 2019
A new era of transatlantic marine ecosystem research Professor J Murray Roberts, Chair in Applied Marine Biology & Ecology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
In September 2011 I was sitting in a small café in Brussels with a slightly nervous group of marine scientists before an appointment with the programme managers responsible for funding marine science across the European Union. We had all been working on European projects studying North-East Atlantic deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of increasing human activity. We were convinced that the only way to tackle the big issues in their ecology and management was to move to research programmes spanning the entire Atlantic from east to west. Not only would this give us the geographical scale to deal with questions about how these ecosystems had developed and were connected, but by sharing research vessels and equipment across nations we could work more efficiently and get more researchers to sea. After probably too much early morning caffeine we headed into the lion’s den to present what seemed a ludicrously ambitious concept. For the two years leading up to the meeting we had developed TRACES (www.lophelia.org/traces), a Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study bringing the Atlantic cold-water coral community together to flesh out research and policy priorities. We proposed that the EC back the concept of projects that brought together European, Canadian and US researchers. We explained that this was now more urgent than ever: concerns over the damage to deep coral habitats from bottom trawling were high on the agenda with the UN, along with the spectre of climate change and the acidification of deep waters, threatening to make huge swathes of the North Atlantic unsuitable for coral growth. I remember the meeting went well. There were smiles and handshakes at the end but we all
left with a feeling of ‘well, that was nice, but what happens next?’ In the years since that meeting in Brussels, the European Commission has been the driving force behind two important international declarations that have created the opportunities for integrated Atlantic ecosystem research working at ocean basin scale. In 2013 the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation set the stage for a new research alliance between the EU, Canada and the USA. Among the projects funded to help implement the Galway Declaration is ATLAS (www.eu-atlas.org), coordinated by the University of Edinburgh. The overall aim of ATLAS is to better understand deep Atlantic ecosystems and use that understanding to create a spatial management plan, with 25 partners working across 12 North Atlantic case study areas. These areas support iconic Atlantic seabed habitats, including deep-sea sponge fields, cold-water coral habitats, seamounts and hydrothermal vents. ATLAS research is built from a foundation studying the Atlantic’s major ocean current system, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, AMOC. This hugely important current system interconnects deep Atlantic ecosystems and, through the famous Gulf Stream and North Atlantic drift currents, gives Scotland its (relatively!) mild climate. But what will happen to deep Atlantic ecosystems if these intimately linked currents change? The AMOC is predicted to slow, but our understanding of this complex system and its effects on ecosystems is very poorly developed. ATLAS is now approaching its final year but has already produced 50 peer reviewed papers with 85 more in preparation, leading to impacts in many areas such as a new legal instrument to manage biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (the BBNJ process).
“By sharing research vessels and equipment across nations we could work more efficiently.”
In 2017 the Belém Statement on Atlantic Research and Innovation Cooperation was signed between the EU, South Africa and Brazil, creating the opportunity for new projects expanding across the entire Atlantic, from south to north, with wonderful opportunities for projects to build the human and technical capacities for Atlantic Ocean research. A new project, iAtlantic, will build upon the foundations established by ATLAS to create a full Atlantic community of marine scientists and policy specialists working to identify those areas of the deep and open Atlantic that are likely to be under most pressure from projected climate change and other human activities. This huge challenge has meant creating a large team, and iAtlantic moves forward with 35 partners, an offshore expedition programme worth around €30M euros, and a budget of €10.6M. And there is more good news. The UK has funded a new Global Challenge Research Fund, the One Ocean Hub, dedicated to ocean research, management and capacity building, and led by the University of Strathclyde. Thinking back to that meeting in Brussels in 2011, it is extraordinary to see how far we have come in our abilities to link and align ocean research in the Atlantic. While the published papers, workshops and policy panels are all vital, I also think it’s important we remember the real legacy of these projects – the people who move forward through their careers with a deeper understanding of Atlantic ecosystems and the networks to bring stakeholders from all sectors together. As we move towards the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (en. unesco.org/ocean-decade) it will be these people who become the ambassadors for the oceans of the future.
Understanding the AMOC, a climate-sensitive ocean circulation system Dr Peter Spooner, Research Associate, Department of Geography, University College London
The oceans are a vital part of the Earth system, supporting incredible ecosystems, storing carbon, and carrying vast quantities of heat around the globe. Underpinning this importance are the ocean currents, huge systems of moving water that transport everything from heat and salt to carbon and nutrients. One of the best known of these current systems is called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or ‘AMOC’ for short. But the AMOC is changing due to our changing climate, and we need to understand by how much and how fast so that we can understand the consequences. The AMOC is a northward transport of shallow water in the Atlantic Ocean to the Nordic and Labrador Seas, where it gets cold and dense and then sinks, returning southwards in the deep ocean. The water is pulled back to the surface near Antarctica, forming a giant loop. This sounds simple, but the AMOC is really made of up many different chaotic ocean currents. Imagine a lot of shoppers in a supermarket, full to capacity. Overall there is a general flow in through the doors, past the checkouts and out again, but within this larger pattern there is chaos: meandering, argy-bargy, reversing, going down the same aisle ten times, and generally getting in everyone’s way. Because no more people can enter the supermarket until others have left, the overall flow of people is controlled by how many can get out through the tills. Instead of tills, the flow of the AMOC is controlled by how much water can get dense enough to sink.
doors? Well, one way might be to make an estimate based on the amount of money spent at the tills, which, if we are lucky, may even be recorded somewhere in a forgotten filing cabinet. This is a nice idea because, like standing at the doors, we would be measuring a larger pattern that emerges from the chaos, rather than trying to dive into the chaos itself. We would call our record of money spent a ‘proxy’ for the flow of people. It would not be perfect because there are other factors that could affect spending, but it would give us a good idea. Like the shoppers taking money to the tills, the AMOC takes heat to the north. We can therefore use ocean temperature patterns as a proxy for AMOC flow. We have many ways of estimating past ocean temperature, mainly using long-dead marine organisms preserved in seafloor sediments, the ocean’s filing cabinet.
“To understand our impact, we need to see how the modern AMOC compares to what came before.”
If you wanted to measure the overall flow of people through the supermarket, you would be well advised to stand by the door and count people in and out, thereby ignoring the chaos within. With today’s technology, we can achieve something like this approach for the AMOC. We have been measuring the total flow since 2007, using an array of instruments strung out across the Atlantic. However, we would really like to know what the AMOC was doing before we started measuring it, before humans had even guessed that it existed. To understand our impact, we need to see how the modern AMOC compares to what came before. How could we measure the flow through the supermarket last week, or last year, before we had dedicated individuals at the
The results from these sediments suggest that the modern AMOC is quite weak compared with the last 1,000 years. The overall flow has lessened. In our analogy, this is akin to people spending more time in the supermarket because of a hold up at the tills. Why might this be? Well, climate models show that, as we warm the Earth with greenhouse gases, we also increase the amount of freshwater going into the North Atlantic. When water gets warmer and fresher, it becomes less dense and therefore less likely to sink. But it is not only human impacts that are important. Our results suggest that the weakening began about 200 years ago, before greenhouse gas emissions had had a significant impact on atmospheric temperature. This early weakening may have been caused by freshwater entering the North Atlantic towards the end of the Little Ice Age, a cold period in Europe that lasted several hundred years. More recent 20th century changes were likely due to human-caused climate changes, and the AMOC seems to be more sensitive to these than we had thought. The consequences of significant AMOC weakening include changes to ecosystems, commercial fisheries, local weather and climate. We will need to continue to investigate past AMOC sensitivity if we are to accurately forecast and prepare for these consequences, some of which are already becoming apparent.
North Atlantic Circulation. © Natalie Renier, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
FURTHER READING Thornalley, David JR, et al (2018) Anomalously weak Labrador Sea convection and Atlantic overturning during the past 150 years (Nature vol 556, www.nature.com/articles/s41586018-0007-4)
12 SPRING 2019
A practical guide to the ocean plastic crisis Emily Woglom, Executive Vice-President, Ocean Conservancy, USA
Scientists are still deciphering the effects of plastic on the ocean and all the creatures that depend on it, but what we know so far is troubling. More than 800 species of wildlife are impacted by plastic, from the smallest zooplankton to the largest blue whales, through either entanglement or ingestion. Plastic has been found in places as far removed from civilization as Arctic sheet ice and even the bottom of the Mariana Trench. We don’t yet know whether this has any impact on human health, but there is evidence that plastic is present in the ocean food chain, and that plastics disrupt the reproductive systems of certain marine animals, transport disease and invasive species, and even release greenhouse gases once in the ocean.
A second strategy, therefore, is to move towards a more circular economy in which products are designed to be reused or recycled rather than discarded. In a circular economy, materials never become waste at all. Getting there requires coming up with new designs or new business models to make sure materials are recovered and reused.
“There are three main strategies we need to pursue to end the plastic pollution crisis.”
To the uninitiated, the bottom line might seem obvious: we need to get rid of plastic and clean up what’s there. If only it were so simple. In reality there are three main strategies we need to pursue to end the plastic pollution crisis. First, there are certain products that we can do without: unnecessary single-use items like plastic straws and © Marian Herz grocery bags, and materials that cannot be recycled at all like expanded polystyrene packaging (such as foam food and beverage cups). Indeed, singleuse items like plastic bottles, food wrappers, and bottle caps make up the vast majority of the millions of pounds of trash collected every year by volunteers during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Since 1986, volunteers have removed nearly 18 million water bottles and nearly ten million straws from beaches and waterways worldwide. It’s what led Ocean Conservancy to launch the Skip the Straw campaign in 2014, and it’s why we support getting rid of certain products altogether. At the same time, we have to recognize that plastic has become ubiquitous because it provides value that consumers demand, and that demand is exploding, particularly in parts of the world where economic growth is high and consumer purchasing power is increasing dramatically. Yes, in some cases we can switch to other materials like paper, glass, or aluminium; but those may result in unintended consequences like increased greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and so on.
At the heart of the circular economy is a third strategy – and one that can have an immediate impact on keeping plastic out of the ocean. That solution is investing in infrastructure for a circular economy; in other words, in material collection and recycling systems.
A 2015 paper published in the journal Science revealed that more than half of the estimated eight million metric tons of plastic that flows into the ocean every year from land comes from just a few countries in Asia where population and economic growth have outpaced waste management infrastructure. Put simply, trash gets into rivers, and the ocean, because it has nowhere else to go. That’s why at the fifth Our Ocean Conference in Malta in 2017 we proudly announced the launch of what would become Circulate Capital, the world’s first investment firm dedicated to funding the entrepreneurs and innovators in Asia who are working to change collection and recycling systems in that part of the world. To date, the fund has received more than $100 million in seed funding and has released an RFP (request for proposal) for investable projects. Needless to say, this too isn’t a silver bullet and won’t happen overnight. Improving waste collection and recycling systems is a critical part of the solution, but still just a part. We need to make progress on all three fronts: reducing unnecessary single-use items, designing materials and business models for a circular economy, and investing in the collection and recycling systems to underpin that circular economy. In the meantime, the average person can absolutely make a difference, as well. Prioritize reusable rather than single-use products; opt for items that are not only recyclable but actually made of recycled content; learn what is and isn’t recyclable in your local municipality; and participate in an International Coastal Cleanup event near you (or start your own). As with any global problem, the solutions to the ocean plastic crisis are complex, but the good news is that we know where to start, and the work is underway.
© Ocean Conservancy
© Skip Nall, Aurora Photos
Marine litter Dr Peter J Kershaw, Chair, GESAMP (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection)
Humanity has long used the ocean as a convenient receptacle for its waste. The idea of throwing things into the sea, a seemingly limitless place, where they would effectively disappear has been very appealing – ‘out of sight, out of mind’. As a consequence our oceans have become contaminated with a great variety of our waste products, such as persistent organic pollutants, artificial radionuclides, heavy metals, excess nutrients, and marine litter. The traces of our activities can be found everywhere.
the North Sea, and deeper water of the North-East Atlantic, are littered with fishing gear – Abandoned, Lost or other Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG). Once plastic litter reaches the seabed it is likely to remain intact for a very long time; plastics are too modern for us to know how long that will be, but it is likely to be measurable in centuries. For example, ALDFG has been observed on the seafloor of the North Atlantic, and microplastics have been found in the sediments of the Challenger Deep, in the deepest part of the Mariana Trench (~11,000m).
“With the arrival of plastic marine litter the problem is no longer ‘out of sight’.”
Materials made out of natural materials (eg, wood, sisal, cotton) will tend to degrade quite rapidly in the environment. Items made from metal, glass or ceramic will last longer. They are likely to have been the predominant type of litter found on beaches until a few decades ago, but with fewer applications their numbers have been declining. With the arrival of plastic marine litter the problem is no longer ‘out of sight’. Synthetic plastics have been around since the early 20th century, but production ramped up with the development of industrial mass production during and after World War II. They have become integral with modern lifestyles, with per capita use highest in the USA, followed by Europe and Japan. Other populous countries, such as China and India, are catching up rapidly with a growing middle class. Unfortunately our enthusiasm for its utility has not been matched by our willingness or ability to minimise the generation and management of waste, leading to ‘leakage’ to the environment. This is a global problem but it is particularly acute in developing countries, such as in East and Southeast Asia, and for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean. Europe has a better record for waste management than most regions but we still export much of our plastic waste to third countries, which may be ill-equipped to deal with it. Up to 2015 it is thought that about 6,300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated, of which 9% had been recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% either placed in landfill or allowed to leak to the environment. An unknown proportion of this has reached the ocean. One of the outstanding properties of most synthetic plastics is durability. This makes it ideal for construction and transport applications (lowering costs and CO2 emissions as a result), and it has transformed the aquaculture and fisheries sectors. But, durability is also the problem, especially once unwanted plastics enter the ocean. UV irradiation and abrasion on the shoreline will result in a degree of weathering and fragmentation. But, once plastic becomes buried in sediment or enters the sea, the rate of degradation slows significantly. Lack of UV, lower temperatures and lower oxygen levels are important factors. Many plastics are denser than seawater, including the ubiquitous PET drinks bottle, so they are likely to end up on the seafloor. Much of the seafloor of
Plastics that are less dense than seawater, or objects with buoyancy such as fishing buoys, will be transported with surface currents, and litter may end up thousands of kilometres from the original; for example, lobster pot tags from the east of the USA can be found along the west coast of the UK, and beaches on the east coast of Africa are strewn with ‘flip flops’ from South-East Asia. Why does this matter? It matters because society puts a value on the consequences, of which there are many. This might be the entanglement and death of a dolphin caught in an abandoned fishing net, a bird that has starved to death after becoming entangled in its nesting material, the sight of litter on an otherwise pristine shoreline, a vessel losing power after the cooling water intake is blocked by plastic bags, or the prospect of consuming microplastics in seafood. In other words, there are social, economic and environmental impacts of our carelessness. Marine litter has become a hot topic politically, partly driven by increased public awareness and media attention. The David Attenborough ‘Blue Planet’ effect is often mentioned in international gatherings. At a global level, efforts by member states are being coordinated under the UN Environment Assembly, meeting for the fourth time in March 2019. Marine litter is identified as an important indicator of ocean ‘pollution’ in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14.1.1). Regional Seas operations (such as OSPAR for the North-East Atlantic), the G7, G20 and EU are all active in developing marine litter action plans. This will help to put in place governance mechanisms and litter reduction strategies; but it is up to all of us to make sure these are effective.
14 SPRING 2019
Microplastics as marine pollutants Professor Tamara Galloway, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Thanks largely to massive media attention in the last year or so, most people will have heard of microplastics. These are the tiny pieces of plastics that can be found just about anywhere in the marine environment, from the polar icecaps to the deepest ocean trenches, and liberally sprinkled across the beaches and shorelines in between. Microplastic is a term used to describe plastics of <1mm, including fibres, fragments and films formed when larger items break down through the action of winds and tides or after exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. Microplastic is also used to describe plastics made to be small and which reach the oceans through wastewaters systems, including the microbeads that, until recent changes in legislation, were added to cosmetics and personal care products as exfoliants, or particles synthesised by 3D printers, or released from pigments, paints and coatings.
their size range leads them to be easily ingested by a very wide range of aquatic species, from planktonic species near the base of the food web, to bivalves, worms, crustaceans and fish. They can also be found in the gut and tissues of larger animals, including turtles, seals, dolphins and porpoises, although it’s not yet clear how much of this is due to eating contaminated prey and how much to ingesting microplastics directly from the water column. Our recent research that investigated the gut contents of post-mortem marine mammals washed up around the UK coastline found microplastics in every animal, although the health consequences of this contamination couldn’t be determined. In smaller organisms, ingestion of microplastics can cause inflammatory reactions, or interfere with gut function and normal © George Stoyle patterns of feeding. It’s possible that microplastics could be transferring harmful contaminants absorbed from seawater into the tissues of animals, although the relative contribution this makes compared to uptake directly from seawater isn’t yet known.
“Risk assessments were never intended to cover a situation where [plastic] could accumulate in such vast quantities and in such diverse environments.”
Plastics are versatile and hugely useful materials, cheap to manufacture, lightweight and durable to use, and with over 4,000 different mixtures of polymers in current use, available in a myriad of colours and formulations, each of which may contain a wide range of different additives: hardeners, softeners, stabilisers, dyes and antibacterial additives. Global production of plastics currently stands at 330 million tonnes and is steadily increasing year on year, with around 50% of the total intended to be used once and then discarded. It is no surprise that the items most frequently found as microplastics in the oceans are the ones that are manufactured in the largest quantities: polyethylene and polypropylene from single-use food and drinks packaging, polystyrene and polyvinylchloride from packaging and building materials, polyester, nylon and acrylic from synthetic textiles and fishing ropes. How do they behave? Depending on the density of the plastics themselves, those less dense than seawater such as polyethylene will float on the surface and can be carried large distances by tide and currents, whilst those of greater density than seawater such as polyvinylchloride will sink through the water column to the seabed. Most microplastics sink relatively rapidly due to biofouling of the surface with microbes, plants and rafting organisms. It’s been estimated that over 98% of all the plastic in the oceans has sunk below the surface, although our current understanding of where it ends up remains poor. For example, laboratory experiments have shown that microplastics may be breaking down into even tinier pieces at the nanoscale, below the size range that we can currently detect in the environment. What problems do they cause? Plastic is generally considered a safe material, otherwise we wouldn’t be using it to wrap our sandwiches in the first place. The problem for the marine environment is one of scale and context. Risk assessments performed on the raw materials themselves were never intended to cover a situation where they could accumulate in such vast quantities and in such diverse environments and hence aren’t adequate for ensuring the safety of marine life. The issue with microplastics is that
Finding solutions in circular economies So what can be done? Compared with other large-scale anthropogenic pressures such as ocean acidification and climate change, microplastics pollution appears to be an easier problem to solve. We could simply stop throwing plastic into the oceans in the first place, couldn’t we? At the University of Exeter we are currently addressing just this problem, with funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. We have set up the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) including toxicologists, marine biologists, conservation scientists, psychologists, materials scientists, economists and public health experts, all working to develop a more circular plastics economy. The idea is that by applying systems thinking, we can change the current pattern of linear plastics use, wasteful as it is both materially and economically, and work towards circular systems, creating new materials, keeping items in the supply chain for longer, replacing, reusing and reducing. Achieving this requires us not only to generate new types of material, but also to understand the behaviours that encourage us to discard things so readily in the first place. It’s hopeful that the technologies and scientific advances that brought us plastics in the first place can also be a large part of the solution to more sustainable use of plastics in the future. FURTHER READING
Harrison RM, Hester RE (eds) 2019 Plastics and the Environment (Royal Society of Chemistry, dx.doi. org/10.1039/9781788013314)
The pressure of fisheries on the ocean Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator, Sea Around Us, University of British Columbia, Canada
Fisheries are one of the strongest – if not the strongest – sources of pressure on ocean ecosystems. Other uses of the oceans also impact marine life, for example marine transport through the engine noise it generates, which impacts whales and other marine mammals, through discarded ballast waters, a rich source of invasive species, or through the occasional oil spill. But fisheries are designed to kill marine animals whether they are landed and subsequently consumed by people or animals such as pigs, chicken, or farmed salmon, or discarded as unwanted bycatch, of which about ten million tonnes are thrown overboard annually. And not only are fishing gears designed to kill fish (and whatever else co-occurs with fish), but they are good at it, and are getting better every year. Thus, the steam trawlers that began to be deployed around the British Isles in the 1890s were 20 times more efficient at catching fish than sail-powered boats of the same tonnage, while same-sized contemporary trawlers are 20 times more efficient than the steam trawlers of lore. Globally, tens of thousands of industrial vessels – trawlers, purse seiners, long-liners, motherships, etc – are deployed by the world’s fishing nations, relentlessly criss-crossing the oceans and setting up their gear to catch every fish concentration they encounter.
They do this in the high seas, which cover 60% of the world ocean but from which less than 10% of the world catch originates, and in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), but more importantly in the EEZs of other countries, which they access legally by paying a nominal fee, or illegally in the case of pirate operations.
“It is nature which produces the fish; fishing boats just collect the bounty.”
The world catch from the sea is about 120 million metric tons per year, down from over 130 million in 1996, the year of global peak catch. However, it is not because we do not fish enough; rather because we fish too much. The notion that, past an optimum level, more fishing causes catch to decline is not intuitive: after all, if you invest more in manufacturing, or in agriculture, you produce more. However, fishing vessels are not an input contributing to more fish being ‘produced’: it is nature which produces the fish; fishing boats just collect the bounty. Thus, if the bounty declines, managers ought to allow fish populations to recover, rather than subsidizing fisheries that cannot thrive when exploiting depleted fish populations. After lots of debates about issues of the role of subsidies and excess fishing capacity, the EU passed legislation which is supposed to help rebuild stocks, ie the permitted catch quotas are supposed to be low, so that the fish populations can rebuild some of their previous abundances and hence again generate high catches. But the measures required to implement this legislation are being fought against tooth and nail by the fishing industry and their lobbyists, who are used to being able to rely on EU and/or national governments’ subsidies when the fish stocks fail them. With Brexit, there will be no EU Parliament to try to help UK fish populations, but also no Spanish and French lobby groups to mess things up. The UK can thus opt to rebuild their stocks, and thus reduce the pressure on the sea around Britain. This would also help these fisheries weather the effects of global warming, which will also buffet fish stock populations around the UK. Either way, it will be tough.
Two versions of the world’s marine fisheries catch (1950-2014). The Reported catch is based on selfreports of the member states of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Reconstructed catch corrects for catches usually omitted in official reports, ie catches by artisanal, subsistence and recreational fisheries, along with the catch of illegal or otherwise unreported fisheries, and discarded bycatch.
16 SPRING 2019
A, B, seas: the oceans in secondary school Geography
Surveying the sea caves of St Kilda
Erica Caldwell FRSGS and Alastair McConnell, RSGS Education Committee
I awoke to a steady, silent boat. The swell that had rocked our journey throughout the night had passed. I made my way up on to the deck just as the sun broke above the horizon. To the west was Village Bay on Hirta, St Kilda’s largest island, to the north the imposing cliffs of Boreray and the iconic pillars of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin that rise out of the sea like primeval sentinels keeping watch over Hirta. As I took in this dramatic panoramic vista, a wave of excitement washed over me. We had made it at last.
As they cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and 99% of liveable space, an understanding of the seas and oceans is essential to grasping the global processes and connections studied in school Geography. Seas and oceans provide a harvest of fascinating topics for pupils to investigate in S1-S3 as part of their Broad General Education. Parts of recent television documentaries – Blue Planet II, A Plastic Tide and Drowning in Plastic – are widely used to show the worldwide impact of our throwaway society and to allow youngsters to make knowledgeable contributions to discussions both now and in their future.
“Seas and oceans provide a harvest of fascinating topics for pupils.”
The impact of rising sea level and increased storminess on coastal communities as well as the reintroduction of more widespread commercial whaling are current, relevant and important issues on which Geography departments are well placed to provide both background and detailed information.
In the senior phase of Scottish secondary schools, pupils studying Higher Geography focus in the Atmosphere section on the redistribution of energy across the globe through surface ocean currents and the influence of maritime air masses on seasonal rainfall across West Africa. In Lithosphere the erosional and depositional processes leading to the formation of arches, stacks and spits are studied. This links with the issue of conflicts in UK coastal landscapes covered in the Rural section, where, on a global scale, the consequences of El Niño events on rainfall patterns and therefore land degradation in the Sahel can also be incorporated. At National 5 Geography the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and its influence on UK weather patterns is covered in some detail – in particular, maritime air masses and the influence on temperature of distance from the sea. One of the Environmental Hazard case studies, tropical storms, considers the influence of sea surface temperatures on their strength and impact on coastal communities. In Tourism, causes, impact and strategies for managing mass tourism and eco-tourism also relate to coasts and oceans. Many Geography departments are involved in teaching Environmental Science at both National 5 and Higher levels. In this subject the oceans are directly studied in the Hydrosphere section, incorporating the hydrological cycle, ocean gyres, the global ocean conveyor belt and the influence of thermohaline circulation and the Coriolis effect. The focus of this subject on sustainable resource management emphasises the oceans as a provider of a secure food supply, examining strategies for intensive fishing (trawling, dredging), approaches to conservation through marine protected areas and the role of Marine Scotland, zoning, and sustainable fishing methods (mesh size, net shape, days at sea, line fishing, hand diving) and promotion of alternative species. The environmental impact of food distribution, food miles, carbon footprint, carbon neutral, carbon offsetting and pollution link into this issue. The requirements and considerations for siting tidal and wave power stations are also evaluated. The seas and oceans are an integral part of the Earth’s physical and human systems, and as such permeate through the Geography courses studied in schools.
George Stoyle, with Richard Shucksmith
St Kilda is one of few places in the world that has World Heritage status for both its natural and its cultural significance. It is also a Natura site which represents the very best of Scotland’s nature. Natura is a European designation given to sites that are both Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). St Kilda is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The surrounding waters are assigned SAC status for rocky reefs and sea caves, both of which host a wealth of spectacular sea life. We were part of a scientific dive team commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and led by Heriot-Watt University to undertake Site Condition Monitoring of sea caves and rocky reefs around both St Kilda and North Rona. The purpose of Site Condition Monitoring is to establish whether features of SACs are likely to maintain themselves in the medium to long term under the current management regime and wider environmental influences. The survey was planned over three weeks during midsummer of 2015 on the M/V Halton, a 21m converted trawler. Remote and often inaccessible, the distant archipelago of St Kilda has attained an iconic status among UK divers. It is made up of several islands and sea stacks created by ancient volcanic activity. Its isolation from the mainland UK and any significant runoff or sources of pollution results in exceptionally clear, blue oceanic water. This and its dramatic underwater topography provide conditions which support a high level of marine flora and fauna. A wave of enthusiasm swept around the boat as everyone appeared on deck to see the sun rise over Village Bay. Remarkably, the weather had cleared completely as we all gazed up at the blue sky above the steep cliffs to see clouds of puffins circling overhead. Conditions were about as good as we could hope. The scouting team headed off in the zodiac and after an hour returned, having identified a number of potential sites. The survey routine had been polished to military precision; we were kitted up, on the zodiac, and in the water in no time at all. The visibility was predictably very good and the marine life strikingly beautiful. On a simplistic level it’s the vivid colours that provide the most characteristic feature of diving around St Kilda. Intense pinks, greens and oranges offset by that rich turquoise backdrop.
Diving in such a remote place on the very edge of Europe gives you a sense that everything is wild and untamed. In total we surveyed three full cave systems. The caves of St Kilda are home to a wide variety of encrusting marine animals. At the entrance to a cave, where the light is strongest, the animal communities are often obscured by dense kelp such as Alaria, known commonly as dabberlocks. This thin strap-like kelp is well adapted to high energy conditions such as those provided by the large swells and storms that occur around the archipelago. Deeper down, as the light starts to fade, the community changes and often quite dense carpets of jewel anemones, poached egg anemones (Actinothoe Sphyrodeta), and tufts of bryozoan colonies such as the spiral bryozoan (Bugulina flabellata) and the pompom bryozoan (Bicellariella ciliata), dominate. Further into the cave, species which survive well in low light and strong surge conditions become more prevalent. The bright red baked bean squirt Dendrodoa grossularia can often coat huge areas of the vertical and overhanging surfaces of caves, and these small squirts provide refuges for other sorts of mobile species such as juvenile crabs. The soft coral stoloniferan Sarcodictyon roseum may be prevalent on sloping surfaces, distinctive because of its bright red stolons connecting the feeding polyps together. In the innermost recesses of the caves, sponges are often dominant, with specialists including the elephant ear sponge (Pachymatisma johnstonia), normally dark grey in colour but in the dark conditions growing as an albino. Another interesting sponge is Clathrina coriacea, which looks like lots of white tubes fused together. The floor of caves is an area where boulders and cobbles may move around, and so only the hardiest of species can survive
there. These may be species that grow seasonally and very quickly such as the encrusting bryozoan Electra pilosa, forming white starry shaped patches on the rocks, or the calcified tube worms Pomatoceros triqueter. At the interface between the boulder floors and the vertical walls of the cave is a zone where divers can often observe the robust dahlia anemones Urticina felina with their stout tentacles and bright colour combinations. Seasonally the fauna of the caves may build up and develop, but much of it may be lost during winter storms, leaving just small stumps or resting stages behind, which may re-grow into new colonies or animals the following summer.
“Diving in such a remote place on the very edge of Europe gives you a sense that everything is wild and untamed.”
Our final dive on St Kilda was a rocky reef survey underneath the natural archway on Dùn. Separated from Hirta by a narrow channel, Dùn provides Village Bay with protection from prevailing south-westerlies. Essentially a narrow vertical crack in the island, the archway can be subject to some fierce tidal surges. This results in some spectacular marine life all placed to take advantage of the never-ending food supply made available in the passing currents. Jewel anemones were so numerous, the sight of entire cliff faces covered in every colour of the rainbow was breath-taking. The walls at the entrance were covered with incredibly dense thickets of hydroids, and even the hydroids themselves provided shelter for what must have been literally millions of tiny mysid shrimps. Dùn Arch was a spectacular final dive on St Kilda.
18 SPRING 2019
Â© Professor Michael Pacione
The beauty of the oceans Except where indicated, all images © George Stoyle
20 SPRING 2019
Arctic hydrates: could we turn threat into energy source? Dr Natalia Shakhova
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. A huge amount of methane is frozen in methane hydrates – compounds in which the gas molecules (20% of the volume) are trapped in crystalline cells consisting of water molecules (80%) held together by hydrogen bonds. One volume of hydrates includes up to 164 volumes of methane; for that reason, destabilization of the hydrates followed by their conversion to free gas causes drastic increase in pressure, which forces gas to move upwards to be released to the atmosphere. Most hydrates are stored in continental shelf deposits, particularly in the Arctic shelves, where they are sequestered beneath and within the sub-sea permafrost. There is more carbon stored in methane hydrates than in all of Earth’s proven reserves of coal, oil and natural gas combined; the amount of gas preserved in the Arctic is called the ‘Arctic super pool’. A specific feature of Arctic hydrates is that they are permafrost-controlled; they destabilize when sub-sea permafrost thaws. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and this warming is most pronounced in the Arctic shelf. The key area in the Arctic shelf is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS); it covers more than two million square kilometres (equal to the areas of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan combined), it is very shallow (mean depth is only ~50m) and it holds >80% of the world’s known sub-sea permafrost and permafrostrelated hydrate deposits. The amount of carbon stored in the ESAS (>1,000 milliard tons) is equal to that held in the entire remaining area of the Arctic continental shelf as hydrate deposits carbon. The ESAS comprises the most vulnerable fraction of the Arctic permafrost, because prior to the recent rapid climate warming, the temperature of the sub-sea permafrost had already increased by up to 17°C after it was submerged more than 12 thousand years ago due to sea level rise.
methane release into the shallow shelf water and further to the atmosphere. The very high pressure that results from hydrate destabilization leads to releases of massive methane bursts emerging as large clouds of bubbles rising through the water column. A great number of such clouds (called flares) has been observed over the ESAS (Figure 1). The amount of methane that could theoretically be released from decaying hydrate deposits in future episodic events could be enormous. Release to the atmosphere of only a tiny fraction of the methane from dissociating Arctic hydrates stored within Arctic shelf hydrates is the likeliest mechanism to cause abrupt climate change. For a variety of reasons any call for action should include Russia, as the ESAS alone holds >80% of world’s predicted sub-sea permafrost and permafrost-related Arctic shallow shelf hydrates. Destabilization of Arctic hydrates possesses a potential threat to the climate system; on the other hand, a natural hydrate is an unconventional source of energy, which could be recovered from seabed deposits with an overage coefficient of extraction of up to 75%. Recovery of hydrate-induced gas could be considered a preventive measure in order to stop any further harm to the climate system. To recover free gas, a solid hydrate should be transferred to a gaseous form by one of these possible methods: by changing pressure-temperature conditions (decreasing pressure and/or increasing temperature) or by injection of active reagents, which facilitate decomposition of hydrates. Recovery of hydrate-induced natural gas could be one effective mitigation measure if conducted using the most advanced technology, like, for example, the Norwegian horizontal drilling technique. Other measures await invention. It is critically important that further investigations of methane releases in the Arctic shelf, and in the ESAS in particular, be supported by the international scientific and political communities. Scientists and politicians worldwide should join together, overcoming political or national differences, in a united international effort to cope with the emerging consequence of ongoing Arctic climate change.
“There is more carbon stored in methane hydrates than in all of Earth’s proven reserves of coal, oil and natural gas combined.”
Current warming in the Arctic is already causing sub-sea permafrost in the ESAS to thaw. Thawed permafrost fails to reliably seal off the hydrate deposits, leading to extensive
Examples of hydro-acoustical images associated with methane release from dissociating hydrates in the ESAS. Panels (a), (b) and (c) demonstrate bubble clouds of different scale releasing from the sea floor. As seen from the panels, bubble clouds can reach the sea surface to be released to the atmosphere.
Deep sea mining David Shukman FRSGS
Swaying on the end of a tether, and dripping with the waters of the Caribbean, a remotely operated submarine is hauled out of the ocean and lowered onto the deck of the British research ship, the James Cook. Crammed into a set of collection boxes are samples of marine life and of rocks gathered from a field of hydrothermal vents, a strange-looking set of miniature volcanoes three miles deep in the Cayman Trough.
Sir David Attenborough told me the prospect of bulldozing hydrothermal vents was “heart-breaking” – it’s where life began, he said. The conservation argument is straightforward, and borrowed from a famous Joni Mitchell song: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Ever since the 1960s, when hydrothermal vents were discovered, more is being discovered about the complex lives thriving on them, many of them possibly ‘endemic’, only existing in that one spot. And it used to be thought that the fields of nodules in the abyss were essentially dead. Now there’s evidence of intricate webs of life existing on and under the rocks. Marks on the seabed suggest that whales may be diving into these depths, for reasons unknown.
“Dozens of ventures are now on the brink of launching a new kind of gold rush.”
For the biologists on board, the excitement of exploring this bizarre realm is the discovery of strange creatures like blind, albino shrimp that exist in the unique habitat offered by the vents. But for the geologists, the goal is to understand the vents themselves. And, as they prise open each chunk of rock, they are astounded by the results. These are sober scientists, not exactly pirates, but it’s as if they have found treasure. The samples, it turns out, are unimaginably richer in gold than those found in any mine on land. This is the attraction of the emerging industry of deep sea mining, an untapped bounty of valuable minerals, including rare earth elements, just waiting to be harvested, what many see as an exciting new frontier in humanity’s quest for natural resources and one which will meet the needs of a growing world population. Others, unsurprisingly, fear that this is the dawn of a devastating threat to the delicate ecosystems of the oceans. It was back in the 1870s that HMS Challenger first identified the mineral potential of the marine world, finding potato-sized ‘nodules’ in the abyssal plains. But it was an American geologist, John Mero, in the 1960s who caused a stir with an assessment that these rocks were so abundant that they could keep the global economy supplied for centuries. For decades, his vision remained unattainable. The sheer cost of operating in the deep ocean and a lack of the right technology prevented any marine mines from opening. No longer.
Experience gained from the offshore oil and gas industry, combined with rising demand for key minerals especially from China, has meant that dozens of ventures, some state-backed, some private, are now on the brink of launching a new kind of gold rush. A Canadian firm, Nautilus Minerals, is eyeing the copper and gold of the hydrothermal vents in the Bismarck Sea off Papua New Guinea. Its three mining machines, each the size of a house, were built by the Newcastle firm SMD which sees huge opportunities for further work. The Japanese government has been prospecting the zinc-rich rocks in its waters off Okinawa. And under licences issued by a UN agency, the International Seabed Authority, companies from China, Russia, South Korea, the UK and many others are actively exploring sites in international waters, notably a vast stretch of the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico known as the Clarion-Clipperton zone. No one is actually mining yet, but the process of investigating the ocean floor has never been so active. In January, BBC Science Editor David Shukman spoke in Dumfries and Galashiels on the subject of deep sea gold mining. Following his insightful talk in Dumfries, David was presented with an Honorary Fellowship of the Society in recognition of his informed and impartial contribution to science communication throughout his career in the media. We look forward to working with David as he continues his pioneering coverage of environmental stories across the world.
So the fear is that the advance of excavators could wipe out whole species. Huge plumes of dust will be churned up and some studies suggest they could be carried on the currents to smother marine life for miles around. And the risks of unintended consequences are so great that campaigners say that the toughest controls are needed. They point out that these have yet to be devised and, in any event, there’s no way that anyone could police them. In answer, advocates of deep sea mining say it will actually be more environmentally friendly than extracting minerals on land. No rainforest or top soil will have to be cleared, no villagers moved, no need for gigantic holes to be torn open in the ground to extract weaker and weaker ores. And there’s no risk of repeating the scandal of many of the mines of the developing world where children are employed in terrible conditions. Two-thirds of the world’s copper and much of its cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo where underage labour has been rife. And many marine geologists argue that we are fooling ourselves to think that we have a choice. We are going to need the minerals of the ocean floor, they say, to supply the surge in demand for electronics and also for a low carbon future. Electric cars need cobalt, wind turbines need rare earth elements, anything with a switch needs copper. A green revolution, some research suggests, will only be possible if it’s supplied from the ocean floor. Some agonising dilemmas lie ahead. And the time for debate is running out. A deep sea mining machine ready for use in Papua New Guinea.
22 SPRING 2019
The need for a holistic approach Dr Daniela Diz, Deputy Director, UKRI GCRF One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde Law School
Healthy oceans are an essential for the functioning of the Earth’s regulatory systems, from carbon cycles to nutrient cycling that sustains our living planet and humanity itself. The multiple and increasing anthropogenic pressures on the oceans are eroding the ecosystem services they provide to humanity, as well as their intrinsic values. Pressures from overfishing, habitat degradation, climate change, ocean acidification, pollution (including underwater noise), marine debris (eg, plastics), and eutrophication, continue to increase. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underscored that marine ecosystems are already experiencing large-scale changes. The tipping point for ocean health is coming ever closer as we approach the global temperature threshold of 1.5°C and above. For instance, the IPCC stated with very high confidence that 70% to 90% of existing warmer water coral reefs will disappear if the 1.5°C threshold is exceeded. Coral reefs support 25% of marine biodiversity globally. Other important habitats, such as mangroves and seagrasses, will be damaged. Fish productivity will also decline at such temperatures, and tropical species will continue to migrate pole-wards, modifying ecosystems around the globe. Seafood security is therefore at stake. Furthermore, with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere sinking into the oceans through the carbon cycle, the oceans have become more acidic (c26% above pre-industrial levels). The consequences of such change in pH have already impacted oyster beds in California and in other regions of the world. Such changes in ocean chemistry also contribute to dead zones.
with a higher aragonite saturation horizon. In light of this, anthropogenic pressures should be minimized to increase the chances of these ecosystem engineers to adapt and survive in a more acidic environment. Hence the need to address cumulative pressures in a holistic manner, including through tools such as integrated impact assessments, marine protected areas, and marine spatial planning. The next decade will prove to be a decisive one for marine conservation. The evidence generated so far must be translated into meaningful and effective policies and sustainable management measures. Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are meant to adopt a post-2020 biodiversity framework in 2020 which will include marine-related targets for the next decade. A new treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is also expected to be adopted in 2020. Most of the marine Sustainable Development Goals will expire in 2020 without being achieved, and this may trigger a revision of these targets and defined next steps. These next steps and instruments to be adopted in 2020 will have to be tailored by considering not only the individual pressures alone, but the cumulative ones on the respective ecosystems and species. These instruments will have to enable integrated management, something that UN member States have committed to back in 1992 at the Earth Summit. Finally, these instruments should be proactive, precautionary, science and knowledge-based, and ecosystem-based to allow the oceans to recover and continue to sustain and nurture life on Earth.
“The need to address the cumulative pressures on marine ecosystems in a proactive manner is urgent.”
Cumulative pressures on a given ecosystem, which can be greater than the sum of the individual sectoral pressures, could overshoot the ability of the ecosystems to perform their functions. The need to address the cumulative pressures on marine ecosystems in a proactive manner is urgent. The oceans’ governance regime is generally fragmented and sectoral, something that is not conducive to holistic responses to these cumulative pressures. Furthermore, marine ecosystem functions and services flows across different geographical scales remain under-studied, and their relevance in policy and decision making, under-utilised.
On the other hand, with the advent of technology such as tracking devices and underwater cameras, scientists have been able to collect and analyse fundamental information for decision making. New species have been found, migratory patterns of species requiring protection have been revealed, and marine ecosystem functions that underpin Earth’s web of life are becoming more understood. For example, the role of sea pen corals as nurseries for redfish has been unveiled. Lophelia corals provide spawning grounds for certain shark species. Beyond the environmental discoveries, some of our most important medicines contain pharmaceutical compounds derived from sponges that have the potential to fight against cancer, viral diseases, malaria and inflammations. Deep-sea ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to ocean acidification, fishing impacts and deep seabed mining. Scientific evidence indicates that seamount summits can provide refugia for cold-water corals from ocean acidification, as they lie in shallower waters
What is the international community doing about the ocean? Tallash Kantai, PhD Researcher, and Professor Elisa Morgera, Director, UKRI GCRF One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde Law School
The ocean is responsible for every second breath we take on Earth. Yet, due to over-exploitation, climate change and pollution, marine life is increasingly under threat. Left unchecked, these interlinked pressures on the health of the ocean pose a threat to our very existence on this planet. Since 2017, debates and action to address the impact of man’s activities on the ocean’s health are gaining ground at all levels. Some of these efforts include awareness-raising campaigns by the media, governments’ plastic carrier bag bans and levies, civil society’s coastal clean-ups, private sector’s ditching virgin plastic production for recycled plastic waste (such as Adidas and Unilever), and multi-pronged international negotiations on marine issues. This limelight is welcome and hopefully right in the nick of time.
Numerous UN bodies are mandated by member States to do specific work towards governing the ocean, and it may be difficult to keep track of all of them. The UN General Assembly, which represents all States in the world, regularly assesses the impacts of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which concentrates on both conserving marine life and sustainably using marine resources (fish, oil, mineral wealth). In addition, the UN General Assembly has identified the need to develop new international rules (a new treaty) to better protect marine life in areas of the ocean that are beyond the jurisdiction of States (the high seas and the deep seabed). These negotiations are focusing on how to better integrate efforts to assess multiple environmental impacts on these remote marine areas, how to more effectively ensure scientific cooperation, capacity building and technology transfer, how to control and support bio-based innovation, and how to create marine protected areas.
“Debates and action to address the impact of man’s activities on the ocean’s health are gaining ground at all levels.”
In the summer of 2017, Fiji and Sweden hosted an international Ocean Conference at the United Nations in New York. In a first for an international conference of this nature, interested stakeholders from all over the world, representing government, private sector, civil society, academia, and media, came together to share innovative solutions to marine pollution, sea-level rise and species loss. As opposed to a talk-shop, the Conference managed to re-energize long-standing ocean advocates and diplomats. It has provided new impetus for ongoing international discussions, and has started new international initiatives. A second Ocean Conference is planned for 2020 to assess progress made internationally.
Meanwhile another UN body, the International Seabed Authority, is developing new international rules on mining in the deep seabed: there is increasing scientific evidence that such mining may risk making irreparable harm to deep-sea marine life, some of it still unknown to humanity, but it can also provide precious minerals that are becoming scarce on land and provide benefits to developing countries. Another relevant international process is the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, where States have been identifying marine areas that are ecologically or biologically significant around the world, as well as considering issues related to underwater ocean noise, marine spatial planning, and climate change impacts on the ocean. And although the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change only makes a passing reference to the ocean, small island states are demanding more attention to the links between the ocean and climate change in that framework. In turn, the Convention on Migratory Species is emphasizing how migratory routes of marine species demonstrate the interconnectedness of different areas of the ocean. Yet another UN process, under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme, a Global Programme of Action addresses pollution sources affecting both marine and freshwater environments, and is looking into stepping up action on ocean plastics in particular, with a decision expected in March 2019. This is also an issue that is being taken up by international chemicals and waste treaties, such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, in cooperation with the World Health Organization as microplastics affect human health in addition to the health of the marine environment. While all these streams of international work represent a timely response to the need for multi-faceted expertise to address the many threats affecting the ocean, they also raise the question of ensuring synergies, avoiding duplication and addressing gaps. There is also a question of effectively linking these initiatives to regional, national and local decisions on the ocean. Connecting these efforts across sectors and levels is equally crucial to save the marine environment, and the various aspects of life on Earth that depend on a healthy ocean.
24 SPRING 2019
Blue Arctic Doug Allan FRSGS
We have already lost one sea from the map. The Aral Sea was a huge inland body of water that fell victim in the 1950s to the agricultural policies of the Soviet Union. Water from its two river sources was intentionally diverted for cotton cultivation. Decreasing water flow into the sea caused a rise in salinity, the abundant freshwater fish species began to die out, the sea itself began to dry out. Now a mere 10% of its previous area, what happened to the Aral is recognised as one of the world’s worst ecological disasters caused by humans. The Arctic Ocean is now being changed. The top of the world is no longer white, but blue. Its ice is disappearing. The Arctic Ocean is the one that’s least visible on a standard map projection of the world. It lies at the top of the doublepage spread in the atlas, looking like a sliver of blue along the top above Greenland, the Canadian islands, Alaska and Russia. Or on a spinning globe, the kind on your desk, it’s where the axis rod runs north to south, with always some kind of spreader piece on the rod where it enters the globe. Watch most people pick up a globe, and they automatically line up their eyes with the equator; they often never think to tilt the globe down so they can see the very north of our planet. I’m trying to say that an awful lot of people don’t actually realise that while Antarctica is a huge frozen continent surrounded by water, the Arctic is the opposite. A wide frozen sea bordered by land. We’ve long been interested in the ice covering the Arctic basin. At the height of the Cold War, both protagonists knew full well that the shortest distance between the Soviet Union and the USA wasn’t trans-Atlantic but trans-polar, across the top. And if you could have your missiles launched from submarines that had punched through the ice right next to the northern shoreline of your enemy, the surprise element would be even more lethal. So submarines from both sides with upward facing sonar criss-crossed under the winter Arctic ice, gathering data on ice distribution and thickness. Now, satellites look down from above. Their radar altimeters measure the distance with millimetric accuracy from satellite
© Doug Allan
to the surface of the ice on the Arctic Ocean below. When the signal bounces off water rather than ice, that distance obviously is fractionally greater. There’s been a massive reduction in the amount of lumpy multi-year ice in the last 25 years; most ice covering the Arctic Ocean now is flat, so subtract your satellite-to-ice distance from your satelliteto-water distance and you have the ice thickness above the water. Seven-eights of floating ice is under the water, so it’s simple to calculate the overall thickness of that flat ice. In 1976, the average thickness of winter sea ice (mid-February) was eight metres. It’s now down to 60% of that value. Thinner ice in winter melts earlier in the (warmer) springs. So over summer there’s more black, open water. Black absorbs heat, sea warms more, takes longer to cool down, freezes later in autumn, thinner ice in winter. You get the picture: we’re in a positive feedback loop whereby there’s nothing to stabilise the system, the changes keep on happening, getting greater through the years. Just as thickness has reduced, so has the area of ice present. Over winter, the ice still covers much of the Arctic basin (though a heatwave of +2°C in December 2017 at the North Pole is undermining that statement), but in mid-September (the month of minimum cover) the picture over the years is clear. In the mid-1980s 7.2 million square kilometres of ice was present; in 2012 it was a mere 4.2 million. It hasn’t been linear decline over the years; some summers have seen a little (temporary) recovery. But you can say with certainty that the summer Arctic now is very different from that of 30 years ago.
“Just as thickness has reduced, so has the area of ice present.”
The Arctic ice has been very eloquently but accurately described as being in a Death Spiral. If we combine thickness and area we arrive at a measure of the volume of ice present. Calculate the volume over the years, month by month, and yes of course it goes up and down over the winter and summer seasons. But overall, the trend is clear. The overall total amount of ice is decreasing in both winter and summer.
It’s spiralling down to the inevitability of summers that will be effectively ice-free. Pen Hadow and his team tried in 2017 to take a sailboat to the North Pole, Sébastien Roubinet attempted it with his crew last year. Neither was successful but it’s only a matter of time before someone will make it. I predict, very soon. There’s another dangerous consequence of this positive feedback loop in the ice. Under the shallower parts of the Arctic Ocean, above the continental shelf areas, vast amounts of methane gas are frozen solid in a crystalline form. These clathrates exist because of the pressure of the water above, and the cold temperature of that water. But warming of the ocean is breaking down the clathrates, releasing the methane, which is visible bubbling to the surface in certain areas at a much higher rather than previously. Methane as a gas is 20 times more efficient per volume than CO2 at heating the atmosphere. There’s real concern that methane release could be one of the tipping points we’ll cross that puts climate control even further out of our reach.
bear is walking into an uncertain future. In the next 30 years we could see a reduction in their current circumpolar range, and a drop in their number. Some estimate from 24,000 at the moment to around 10,000. Fact is, it’s hard to predict. But we’ve already seen nature’s solution. A handful of pizzlies have been confirmed, hybrids from a union between a male polar bear and a female grizzly. And, perhaps even more surprisingly, these hybrids can be fertile themselves. Nature sure is resilient, but that’s a hell of a costly and uncontrolled experiment we’ve been carrying out to make the point.
“Life in the Arctic has evolved to depend on the ice.”
Life in the Arctic has evolved to depend on the ice. Ringed, harp and hooded seals give birth on it, polar bears would live on it all year round if they could. Polar bears are classed as marine mammals, like whales or walrus. Whales live IN the sea, polar bears live ON it. Screw with that crucial environment, degrade it, break it up sooner, cut down the amount of it, and it’s like chopping down the rainforest round the orangs and expecting to find them in your new palm oil plantation. It ain’t gonna happen. The changing Arctic is exacting a toll already: hungrier females who have less time to hunt on the later-forming autumn sea ice are giving birth to fewer cubs. Those cubs are also lighter, less likely to survive the rigours of the first months on the ice when they come out of the den. More cub mortality, areas of where melt over summer just doesn’t leave the bears enough ice where they can make a living… the polar
I’ve written here about sea ice in the north disappearing because of warming. Let’s also remember that increased CO2 in the atmosphere also means greater concentrations in the sea. Making the seas more acidic. Posing big threats to coral reefs and any animal (or developing larvae) with a calcium carbonate shell. Like some of the plankton species in the polar zones upon which so many fish (and big whales like the bowhead) depend. My support is with the youngsters who came out of school in February to protest about climate change. They have as much right as we had to go see an icy Arctic; we have to embrace the mighty changes necessary to ensure they keep that right. Climate change – shouldn’t we call it climate breakdown? – is without a doubt the number one issue facing us right now. We’ve already lost one sea, there’s a very real risk of losing an ocean. We must do much more to turn the tide.
A whale of a time
During the first week of January, award-winning wildlife film-maker Doug Allan (left) spoke at four venues across Scotland for our Inspiring People talks programme. His passionate and beautifully illustrated talk Whale Meet Again was very warmly received by the hundreds of people who were lucky enough to see him! What’s more, in front of a packed-out crowd at his alma mater, Dunfermline High School, he received Honorary Fellowship and our prestigious RSGS Mungo Park Medal. They were presented by RSGS Vice-Chair Alister Hendrie (right) for Doug’s contribution to geographical knowledge and inspiration through his numerous award-winning film sequences – often captured at great personal risk – and for his promotion and support of a range of geographical charities.
26 SPRING 2019
Coral reefs Professor Michael Pacione MA PhD DSc FRSGS, Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Strathclyde
Tropical coral reefs exist within a narrow belt between 30°N and 30°S where climate, marine chemistry, ocean currents and biology combine to meet the needs of reef-building corals. Often described as the rainforests of the ocean, coral reefs form some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Estimates suggest that coral reefs provide an economic value of US$30 billion per year. Coral reefs are vital for the world’s fisheries, providing sheltered nurseries for juvenile fish. In developing countries, reef-associated fish species contribute 25% of total fish catch. Globally, one billion people have some dependence on coral reefs for food and income from fishing. By dissipating the power of waves and storm surges, reefs also help prevent coastal erosion and flooding, saving billions of dollars in reconstruction costs, expensive artificial defences, and the human costs of death and displacement. Without coral reefs, low-lying atolls like the Maldives would not exist. Revenue from tourism generated by coral reefs supports coastal communities. Tourism on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef generates more than US$1 billion per year. Reefs also supply 70% of the white tropical beach sand that is a waste product of parrot fish that graze on the coral. Coral reef ecosystems can be a source of new medicines. Many reef-dwelling species have developed complex compounds, such as venoms and chemical defences, to aid their survival in these highly competitive habitats. These are now being used in human medicine as painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-cancer drugs. As most of the reef ecosystem remains untested, the potential for new pharmaceutical advances is enormous.
• increasing greenhouse gas emissions leading to ocean acidification and reduced coral growth rates; • ocean temperature rises due to global warming leading to coral bleaching; • diseases due to degraded water quality that affect the coral’s immune-defence capabilities; • crown-of-thorn starfish (COTS) whose populations have grown due to overfishing of predators such as wrasses, and nutrient pollution that stimulates growth of algae, the preferred food of COTS larvae.
“Coral reefs form some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth.”
Threats from rising sea temperatures and acidification must be addressed internationally with a global effort to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, and to promote carbon sequestration techniques. Other pressures on coral reefs can be tackled through national and local initiatives.
According to the World Resources Institute, about 27% of the world’s coral reefs are included within Marine Protected Areas, but almost half of these are ineffective. Increasing this coverage is an approach that can be particularly However, the existence and value of our coral reefs is under successful when it has threat from a host of largely anthropogenic factors. Reefs the support of local face multiple threats from: © Professor Michael Pacione stakeholders in Locally • increasing demand for fish from a growing world Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs). A related strategy is to reduce population, leading to overfishing and unsustainable practices unsustainable fishing practices by addressing the underlying such as irresponsible trawling and, in some parts of the world, social and economic drivers of overfishing, and educating local use of dynamite and cyanide; fishers on the long-term economic benefits to be derived from • pollution from industrialising economies, including nonsustainable coral reef tourism. The negative impacts of coastal biodegradable plastic waste; developments, including tourism, can be ameliorated by zoning • fertiliser runoff from commercial agriculture, leading to algae regulations and coastal setbacks that limit development within blooms that smother corals, eutrophication, and disease caused a fixed distance from the ocean, and by improving methods of by toxic chemicals from aquaculture; waste water treatment from coastal settlements. Coral reefs can • impacts of increasing marine traffic of cargo and cruise ships suffer long-term damage from discharges of nutrient waste and on reefs through at-sea waste discharge and physical damage; toxic chemicals from nearby landmasses. Sediment, nutrient and • outputs from coastal port and city developments including pollution plumes from deforestation and livestock wastes can sedimentation in coastal waters, and sewage discharge; reach 100km into the ocean from river estuaries. Improved land • irresponsible tourism impacts reefs, from physical destruction management could reduce erosion and runoff, and preservation to chemical pollution from sun creams; of coastal wetlands and mangroves can trap sediments before © Professor Michael Pacione they reach reefs. Pollution and destruction of coral reefs by cargo ships and cruise liners could be addressed by designating shipping lanes away from reefs, and by mandating on-shore disposal of shipgenerated waste. Fundamentally, in addition to global, national and local governmental strategies, successful reef conservation requires increasing public appreciation of the value of, and threats to, global coral reef ecosystems. Currently 75% of the world’s coral reefs are in danger from one or more of these threats. If we do nothing, and continue with unsustainable practices, within 20 years more than 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be under threat from global warming, ocean acidification, and local human activity. By 2050 it is likely that there will be few healthy reefs left. This would be a planetaryscale ecological catastrophe.
Reefs of the deep Dr Sebastian Hennige, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
If you were asked to think of a coral reef, you would probably picture tropical seas, white sandy beaches with palm trees, and a sea teeming with life. While all of this paints an accurate picture of tropical coral reefs, the reefs of the deep made by cold-water corals also support huge amounts of biodiversity, and have a larger distribution than their tropical counterparts, being found in many of the world’s oceans such as the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific. The reason why they do not spring immediately to mind when asked to picture a reef is because they live far beyond recreational diving limits, and are found all the way from 30m down to dark depths at 3,000m.
“The majority of cold-water reefs globally are projected to be in water that would be corrosive to their skeletons by the end of the century.”
longer protected from the water by the live coral tissue, can start to dissolve. The majority of cold-water reefs globally are projected to be in water that would be corrosive to their skeletons by the end of the century, so in such a case, the threat is that these reefs would grow slower, see a loss of habitat, and be able to support less biodiversity. These potential effects, and the risk of this happening is currently being researched at the University of Edinburgh and includes setting up long-term experiments, where corals are painstakingly collected from the bottom of the sea, and transported in chilled containers with running seawater back to the laboratory. There, they are subjected to projected future conditions, and it is only by maintaining these environments for long periods of time, that you start to see how the corals will cope with future changes.
Even though they are out of sight, they are no longer out of mind, and significant research is being undertaken to understand where they are, the kinds of life that live on these reefs, and whether they are at risk from human activities Sebastian Hennige on top of the JAGO submersible in Norway. or environmental change. We A key part of looking forward and thinking about how we can are learning more about them all the time, and only recently support these habitats in the future is raising awareness of discovered that in the Scottish reefs (the nearest being off the these astonishing habitats right on our doorstep. It’s often easy Outer Hebrides) certain types of sharks lay their eggs in the to get lost in the detail of how and why environmental change protective habitats made by these corals. These corals provide may impact these ecosystems and how we can manage this, but a home for many marine species, and the key to this ecosystem the opportunities for us to work with public engagement venues engineering is the skeleton they produce. This skeleton is made to share some of the videos and images we collect reminds us out of calcium carbonate, and all the branches of the corals of just how amazing Scotland’s own coral reefs are, and how interweave to create a complex three-dimensional framework. important it is that we preserve them. Importantly, after a coral dies, the skeleton will still be there, and new generations of coral larvae will settle and grow upon the bones of their ancestors, leading to the whole reef structure growing, providing plenty of habitat for other species to move into and colonize. One of the challenges of studying these habitats is of course their extreme depths, meaning that to survey them, map them, and collect any samples, you need specialist equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) which is tethered to and controlled from a ship, or a manned submersible such as ‘JAGO’. This means that we are only now starting to understand the effects that trawling activity has had on them in the past, and how they may look in the future as the ocean environment changes. One of the greatest threats to these habitats is ocean acidification, where carbon dioxide dissolves in the water, lowering its pH and making it more acidic than it is now. It was not that long ago that the oceans were touted as great sinks for the carbon dioxide that we were producing in ever larger quantities. This turned out to be true, but to such an extent that the chemistry of the world’s oceans began to change. While the lowering of the pH will not get to a point where it would pose a problems to swimmers, for animals that produce calcium carbonate skeletons, such as corals, this can be a big problem. This ocean acidification makes it harder in general for calcifying animals to grow, but also means that dead skeleton, which is no
A Norwegian cold-water coral reef seen from inside the JAGO submersible.
28 SPRING 2019
Is the clock ticking for coral reefs? Dr Heidi Burdett, Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology, Heriot-Watt University
Tropical coral reefs are perhaps the most recognisable of our marine ecosystems. Built from calcium carbonate deposited by the coral animals, coral reefs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, resulting in a complex three-dimensional structure that provides food, shelter and nutrients to a wide range of other plants and animals. Sometimes called the ‘cities of the seas’, tropical coral reefs host some of the highest biodiversity on Earth. In turn, coral reefs provide a wealth of ecosystem services – benefits that humans receive from the natural environment. 500 million people around the world directly benefit from coral reefs for food, coastal protection, building materials and tourism. Of those, 30 million people are totally dependent on coral reefs for their livelihood, such as those living on island atolls. The value of these ecosystem services has been estimated at US$36 billion per year. Sadly, coral reefs have become a poster-child for the effects of climate change and human pressures on the natural environment. Shallow-water tropical corals live in symbiosis with singlecelled algae of the family Symbiodiniaceae. It is these algae that give corals their colour. By photosynthesising inside the coral tissue, the algae supply energy to the corals, whilst in turn being provided with essential nutrients by the coral. However, this symbiosis can break down when the corals are exposed to an ‘environmental stressor’: the algae are expelled from the coral tissue, resulting in a visible loss in colour, known as coral ‘bleaching’. The corals appear bright white because you are looking right through the tissue to the calcium carbonate skeleton underneath. If bleached corals do not, or cannot, repopulate their algal communities quickly enough, they will starve to death. The triggers for bleaching are varied, but rapid increases in temperature as a result of ‘marine heatwaves’ are probably the most common cause. If the increase in temperature is widespread, corals from a large area are affected, resulting in a ‘mass bleaching event’. Mass bleaching events have received high-profile media coverage in recent years. By some, these events have signalled the ‘beginning of the end’ for coral reefs. Indeed, it appears to take years for coral reefs to recover from widespread bleaching, so if bleaching triggers become more frequent and/ or more intense (as is projected to happen over this century), the ability for corals to survive is questionable. Heatwave-induced bleaching is perhaps the biggest threat to corals right now – more so than other stressors such as ocean acidification (which affects the skeletal structure) or overfishing (which causes an imbalance in the ecosystem).
simply because of how vast coral reef areas are – it’s equivalent to reforesting the entire United Kingdom, by hand! Corals and coral reefs are ecologically, economically and culturally important worldwide, supporting trade, tourism, A bleached coral reef in New Caledonia. © The Ocean Agency | XL Catlin Seaview Survey biodiversity and more. Acute stressors such as pollution, dredging and overfishing negatively impact coral reef health at a local scale, whilst rapid changes in the Earth’s climate, especially warming, are threatening their long-term survival at a global scale. Researchers are making A bleached reef in the Maldives. © The Ocean Agency | XL Catlin Seaview Survey great strides towards identifying the hardiest corals and prioritising their conservation, but this treats the symptoms rather than the cause. Instead, we should be looking for prevention. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change suggests that we only have around a decade to make significant reductions in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the year 2100. This requires a huge and consolidated international effort, and governments around the world are investigating ways in which this can be achieved. At the personal level, we can all make our own contribution to this by making sustainable choices, such as eating seasonally and locally, reducing air travel and limiting single-use plastic. All is not yet lost for coral reefs, but urgent action is required.
“The triggers for bleaching are varied, but rapid increases in temperature as a result of ‘marine heatwaves’ are probably the most common cause.”
And yet, hope remains. We now know that corals have been bleaching – and surviving – on the Great Barrier Reef for at least the past 400 years, and during a bleaching event not every single coral will bleach. Researchers around the world are now focusing their work on these heat-tolerant and bleaching-resilient corals. What makes them different? Understanding the ecology, biogeochemistry, geography and genetics of these corals is thought to be key in securing the future survival of coral reefs. Efforts are being made to breed from these corals, with the aim of replanting their hardy offspring back out on the reef, creating a bleaching-tolerant population. This noble venture encourages involvement from the local community, but the ‘scalability’ of this approach remains limited
Before and after a bleaching event. © The Ocean Agency | XL Catlin Seaview Survey
Sharing benefits from genetic resources and sustaining the high seas Harriet Harden-Davies, Nereus Fellow, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, University of Wollongong, Australia As Blue Planet II hit our TV screens last year, viewers worldwide were spellbound by new discoveries of ocean life from sunlit shallows to darkest depths. Humans have long sought inspiration from nature to develop new products to improve our wellbeing. The adaptations of marine creatures to the extremes of temperature and pressure characteristic of deep and open ocean ecosystems are particularly compelling. For example, toxins from sponges have been used to create anti-cancer drugs; anti-freeze proteins from fish have been used in the food industry; and antiinflammatory compounds from a hydrothermal vent worm have been used in a cosmetic cream. The fact that few countries have the capacity to access and investigate these remote, deep ocean areas has fuelled concerns about equitable sharing of benefits from so-called ‘marine genetic resources’.
community to address these questions. Firstly, science is critical to understand the complexity of ‘genetic resources’. This is a legal term referring to genetic material (ie, DNA) that is of actual or potential value. But is the value economic, environmental, scientific, social – or all of the above? Can we compartmentalise genes from the life forms that comprise them or the ecosystems they sustain – or is a more holistic approach required? Ambiguity about the definition has already created unintended consequences for scientific research. Both law and science are needed to forge pragmatic solutions for the high seas.
“The issue of marine genetic resources concerns the balance between rights and responsibilities in the global commons.”
Two-thirds of the ocean lie beyond the jurisdiction of nation-states. More than 200 nautical miles from the coastline, these ‘high seas’ are out-of-sight and out-of-mind for many of Manta ray. © Harriet Harden-Davies us, but these ecosystems are crucial to sustain life on Earth. Climate regulation, nutrient recycling, and fisheries resources are just some of the services that they provide. However, these ecosystems are threatened by human activities such as climate change, over-fishing, pollution, and emerging activities such as seabed mining and geoengineering. Scientific and technological advances are offering new ways to investigate ocean life, but marine biodiversity is being destroyed faster than we are understanding it. Growing alarm over the rapid decline in ocean health has prompted the United Nations to commence negotiations for a new legal agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ agreement). It has taken almost 15 years of preparatory discussions to get this once-in-a-lifetime chance to fill gaps in the international legal framework for the high seas by securing a robust agreement that will enable: • the establishment of marine protected areas; • the adoption of common standards and approaches to assess and monitor the environmental impacts of human activities; • the development, deployment and sharing of new technologies and other ways to build capacity to conserve and sustainably use ocean resources. One of the most contentious issues in these historic negotiations is that of sharing benefits from marine genetic resources. However, the issue is far more complex than a singular question of ‘profit’ sharing. What exactly are marine genetic resources? What are the benefits? Who should share them, why and how? Science offers a crucial unifying focus for the international
Secondly, science is crucial to acquire and share benefits from genetic resources. Initial expectations for a genetic ‘goldrush’ of biotechnology breakthroughs have been tempered with realism about the long, costly, and uncertain nature of biotechnology research and development processes; money is no longer seen as the key benefit. Rather, advancing and accessing scientific knowledge, developing new technologies to investigate ocean life, access to data and biological samples, training and education programmes and other measures to boost capacity for science and biodiversity conservation are increasingly seen as crucial avenues for benefit-sharing. Ultimately, the issue of marine genetic resources concerns the balance between rights and responsibilities in the global commons. Operationalising pre-existing international obligations to build scientific and technological capacity is a key opportunity of the BBNJ agreement. If pursued in partnership with the scientific community, the new agreement could reinforce the global framework to study, protect and preserve the ocean. Fostering the tools and technologies to advance and apply scientific knowledge for ocean stewardship requires a global, inclusive and innovative effort. 2019 is a pivotal year, with the second round of UN negotiations for the BBNJ agreement scheduled for March, as well as a series of meetings to prepare for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. In addition to the scientific community, states, international organisations, NGOs, and the private sector all have a role to play. Individuals can contribute to addressing the challenges too – ocean literacy starts with discussions in a classroom or coffee shop about how we value nature. The high seas are half of our blue planet; they connect and affect us all. Science is a crucial ingredient for an integrated approach to share benefits from genetic resources and enable stewardship of the marine biodiversity in the high seas.
30 SPRING 2019
Black leopard: my quest to photograph the most elusive cat in Africa Will Burrard-Lucas Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black panthers. For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful. For many years they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either. But that didn’t stop me dreaming…
I left the cameras for several more nights. On returning, I checked the cameras one by one – all I had were pictures of hyenas. Until I had a quick look at the last trap. As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph in incomprehension… a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard! I couldn’t believe it! My dream had become a reality…
Then, a couple of years ago, photos started emerging of a black leopard in India. It was a cat that had made its territory in the tourist area of Kabini Forest in Karnataka. The leopard was hard to see, but some persistent photographers managed to capture images of it that got my pulse racing.
Over the next few days, with the help of local researchers and rangers, I moved the camera traps around as I learned more about the leopard’s movements. The next hit I got was further down on the same game trail as the first capture. The cat seemed to melt out of the darkness!
Then, by chance, I was asked to speak at the Nature in Focus Festival in Bangalore in September 2018. I took this opportunity to spend three days searching Kabini Forest for the famous cat. The festival organisers arranged for me to be guided by Giri Cavale, a photographer whose knack for finding the elusive black panther is legendary.
Thereafter the black leopard disappeared and I started capturing images of a big spotty male instead; apparently he had chased away the younger black leopard. I have never been annoyed at capturing a spotty leopard by camera trap before! I suppose at least he was rather handsome… The spotty male hung around for what felt like an age and I began to think that the black leopard might never return. During this time I checked my cameras daily and often had images of striped and spotted hyenas as well.
I didn’t have high hopes of seeing it in such a short period of time, but as we explored the forest it was thrilling just to know the cat was out there. Then, on the second day, we managed to spot the black leopard crossing the road in front of us! It was some way away but I was enthralled. The lucky encounter ignited my imagination and I dreamed of finding and photographing one of these stunning cats in Africa. I have never seen a high-quality image of a wild black leopard come out of Africa, even though stories of them being seen are sometimes told – “a friend of a friend saw a black leopard crossing the road early one morning.” By chance, around the time of my India trip, some friends told me that a black leopard had been seen up at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya. My ears pricked up and I contacted the owners Steve and Annabelle Carey to find out more. Steve confirmed that it was true and he had seen several black leopards over the years. That was enough for me and I decided to invest some time in checking it out. On arrival in Laikipia, Steve took me to meet Luisa Ancilotto who lives close to the camp and had seen a black leopard recently. She told us as much, and knew about the leopard’s habits and territory. Then Steve managed to pick up some fresh leopard tracks nearby and followed them to a path that the leopards seemed to be using. I deployed a plethora of camera traps each consisting of a Camtraptions wireless motion sensor, a high-quality DSLR camera and two or three flashes. I had high hopes of photographing a leopard, but would it be black? The next day I eagerly checked the cameras but had no images of leopards. I was disheartened and suddenly felt the enormity of what I was trying to achieve. Surely I was not going to be lucky enough to actually photograph a melanistic African leopard?!
Then, on the night of the full moon, the black leopard reappeared and I captured a shot with the moon setting behind a ridge. Needless to say, I was thrilled that he was back and that I had captured such an atmospheric image. In all the pictures I had taken, it were the leopard’s eyes that struck me first. I adjusted my lighting to darken as much of the background as possible. As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa. I can still scarcely believe that this project, which started out as a speculative recce trip, has paid such spectacular dividends!
“The cat seemed to melt out of the darkness!”
32 SPRING 2019
Protecting the oceans Louisa Casson, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace UK
“The sea has always challenged the minds and imagination of men and even today it remains the last great frontier of Earth,” the environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote in 1961. Nearly 60 years on, looking out at the vast blue expanse of the global oceans, we still know more about the far side of the Moon than what lives in the ocean depths – but it is human activities that are increasingly challenging the health of our oceans. The pressures facing our oceans are significant and growing. A rubbish truck’s worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute. 90% of fish stocks are fully- or over-exploited. Barely 1% of international waters are fully protected from exploitation. Continuing to burn fossil fuels is profoundly changing the oceans, from waters becoming more acidic to marine life migrating hundreds of kilometres as the seas warm. Seas that thrive with life are not a ‘nice to have’ – they provide vital life support systems. The oceans are responsible for over half the oxygen we breathe, control our global climate, and provide food security for billions of people worldwide. The good news is that surging public support for ocean protection has pushed it rapidly up the political agenda. Michael Gove has made ocean leadership a key priority as UK environment secretary, and clean growth minister Claire Perry recently told MPs that cross-departmental cooperation on oceans had become “unprecedently easy” - a novel feat amid such political upheaval. Last September, the UK announced its support for a global goal for ocean sanctuaries to cover 30% of the ocean by 2030. These protected areas relieve marine life from direct © Greenpeace pressures from fishing, drilling or mining, providing space for sea creatures to recover and build resilience to ongoing threats like climate change. This ambition is in line with scientific advice for protecting biodiversity and helping to tackle climate change. But making this happen requires concerted international cooperation to put conservation at the heart of ocean governance. Right now, international ocean law focuses more on the right to exploit than to protect, in a fragmented system of sectoral or regional bodies with vastly little mandate or expertise to conserve marine life. The state of oceans is a clear sign that the status quo is not working.
We know that well-managed ocean sanctuaries work: in and around them, we find wildlife that is more abundant, physically bigger and more diverse. Seas that thrive with life can store more carbon and help to underpin global food security. Ocean sanctuaries are vital to the future of our oceans, and are an essential tool at sea to accompany action on land to reduce single-use plastic and phase out fossil fuels. So while the UK Government’s ambition is laudable, ministers must use a forthcoming International Ocean Strategy to tackle our footprint on the oceans holistically, connecting the dots and overcoming contradictions. With scientists warning us the next 12 years will be crucial for determining the climate impacts we will face, hunting for new oil reserves under the ocean is not compatible with a safe future. Equally, investing in the risky new venture of deep sea mining before thoroughly exploring the environmental risk to unique habitats or the necessity of mining the seabed for rare earth metals, when we throw away millions of tonnes of electronics packed with these materials each year, is premature. The Government needs to stand up to the bold rhetoric we’ve seen with concrete plans for action – reducing threats at source, and prioritising protection in our own waters and with our global partners. It’s only through this kind of concerted action that we can turn the tide on the “curious situation” that Rachel Carson remarked on: that “the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life.”
“Over the next 18 months, governments around the world will negotiate a new Global Ocean Treaty. This is an historic opportunity.”
Yet over the next 18 months, governments around the world will negotiate a new Global Ocean Treaty. This is an historic opportunity to agree global rules that can supercharge protection in international waters. These global oceans contain ancient coral reefs and trenches deep enough to hold Mount Everest. They are the highways for whales, turtles and tuna travelling thousands of miles, and are home to more diverse creatures than are tropical rainforests. Yet without protections in place, we could destroy wonders yet to even be discovered. Cold-water corals reefs that were destroyed by the bottom trawling that began in the 1960s have shown little evidence of recovery after decades, depriving us all of valuable
knowledge about creatures that may not be found anywhere else on Earth.
© Doug Allan
What the North Pole tells us about our planet Dr Michael Bravo, Scott Polar Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
Standing at the North Pole, you feel on top of the world. Every direction you face is south. Beneath your feet, the Earth rotates on its axis. Being where every line of longitude meets, you are simultaneously in every time zone, and therefore timeless! Is the North Pole more than an intriguing fiction; does it really matter? That is what I set out to discover.
some civilisations. Ancient Hindu texts suggested the existence at the Pole of a large mountain, Mount Meru, rising out of the Earth reaching up to the celestial heavens. All these belief systems shared a sense of connection and alignment between the Earth and the heavens. In the European cosmography inherited from Ptolemy, the Earth’s pole was fixed, a mere shadow of the divine celestial pole, around which the planets were rotating harmoniously.
“Navigators sailing the oceans were coaxed into bringing back magnetic readings from far-flung places to map the Earth’s magnetic fields and poles.”
Recently, scientists have also reported that the North Magnetic Pole is accelerating, crossing the International Date Line from Arctic North America heading for Siberia at approximately 34 miles per year. At the other end of the Earth, the South Magnetic Pole is not moving as quickly. Since the magnetic poles are therefore not opposite each other, what makes them poles? This question has puzzled philosophers for centuries. In the early 16th century, when European empires were crisscrossing the globe in search of new trade routes, mapmakers and artisans worked out how to make maps in which the viewer was high above the Earth directly over the polar axis. This invention required the help of some clever mathematicians to design new kinds of map projection, such as the planisphere, or what we today call the polar projection. These soon became immensely popular because in this new age of empire, these maps, like globes, enabled merchants and princes to hold in one view Europe and the East Indies, and the trade routes on which the imperial ambitions of Spain and Portugal were being built. Beyond Europe, the North Pole was a symbol of paradise for
All this changed when William Gilbert, royal physician, began experimenting with poles in his laboratory using magnetised pieces of rock, which he fashioned into the shape of a sphere to simulate the Earth. He named this instrument the terrella. If poles could be modelled by common chunks of lodestone (magnetised rock), their attraction could be studied using a terrella and a magnetic needle. Decades before Newton began to think about gravity, Gilbert’s experiments led him to believe that a magnetic soul-like substance was causing the Earth to turn on its axis. This was a completely new idea for a pole: active, rotating, attracting.
Soon enough, navigators sailing the oceans were coaxed into bringing back magnetic readings from far-flung places to map the Earth’s magnetic fields and poles. These measurements led Edmund Halley, Astronomer Royal, to conclude that there were actually two North Poles, European and American, one deeper in the interior of the Earth, one closer to the surface. Further measurements revealed that the four magnetic poles, north and south, were not opposite each other. Hence, the more the poles were mapped, the more the nature of poles was cast into doubt. Scientific experts on polar expeditions, watching the strange movement of compass needles near the magnetic poles, turning in circles one way and then the other, fretted constantly, doubting that their measurements of the poles would be trusted on their return home. Their doubts were not misplaced. Even the race to reach the Geographic North Pole between the American explorers, Peary and Cook, descended into an acrimonious and protracted argument about reliability, accuracy, and trust. Today the character of the poles is changing in a different way, with the loss of multi-year sea ice as greenhouse gases are causing temperatures in the Arctic to rise at a rate unprecedented since the end of the Holocene. Explorers now reflect on the possibility of being the last to ski to the Pole, not the first. This reminds us that the North Pole matters today because it is an integral part of how we understand our place on Earth, its boundaries, and what we believe to be precious in our relationship with nature.
Dr Bravo is the author of North Pole: Nature and Culture, published by Reaktion Books in January 2019.
34 SPRING 2019
Discovering the deep: Charles Wyville Thomson and Scotland’s deep-water ecosystems Dr Hermione Cockburn FRSGS and Emma Paterson, Dynamic Earth In Scotland we are surrounded by diverse marine environments. Of these, some of the most remarkable but least understood are the deep off-shore canyons, seamounts and ridges that provide habitats for a wealth of species including spectacular cold-water corals. Back in the mid-19th century there were good reasons to believe that the deep sea was stagnant and devoid of life; this idea of the ‘azoic zone’ was the prevailing view of the time. It took the vision of an Edinburgh scientist to transform our understanding of deep water environments – and yet how many people have heard of Charles Wyville Thomson or know that Scotland’s deep waters were central to the foundation of oceanography and marine biology? Born in Linlithgow in 1830, Wyville Thomson studied and worked in Scotland before becoming Chair of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh in 1870, arguably the most influential position in natural sciences in the Victorian Empire. He was unconvinced by the widely held view that below 300 fathoms (~550m deep) no life could exist and, at considerable risk to his reputation, was determined to investigate. Together with an influential friend, William Carpenter, he borrowed the Navy ship HMS Lightning and sailed between Shetland and the Faroes dredging and sampling at many locations in difficult conditions in an area since named the Wyville Thomson Ridge. During this and later voyages on HMS Porcupine to the north and west of Scotland he made two enormously significant discoveries – that animal life in many forms existed at all depths to at least 650 fathoms (1,200m) and that temperatures varied considerably indicating deep ocean circulation – both truly pioneering discoveries. In 1873 these results were described in his ground-breaking book The Depths of the Sea, but Wyville Thomson didn’t stand still, and by then he had already set out the most famous deep-sea expedition of all: the global circumnavigation of HMS Challenger.
refined dredging techniques and systematically sampled the ocean at 362 stations. They discovered fields of manganese nodules of interest today to the deep-sea mining industry, mid-ocean ridges and the deepest point on Earth, ‘the Everest of the oceans’, Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. John Murray described the Challenger Expedition as “the greatest advance in the knowledge of our planet since the celebrated discoveries of the 15th and 16th century.” Whilst his view might have been biased, the claim is not without foundation, even to this day. Little of this intriguing scientific heritage is widely known, but it is relevant to many of the themes explored in this edition of The Geographer. Threats to Scotland’s deep-water ecosystems from climate change, industrialisation and pollution of the seas are increasingly evident. Effective public engagement is of paramount importance if society is to support the research required to understand these challenging issues and embrace solutions, both as individuals and collectively. Providing innovative and meaningful opportunities for people from all walks of life to explore their relationship with the oceans and develop their ‘ocean literacy’ is critical to build public understanding and sympathy.
“The Challenger Expedition (1872-76) is widely regarded as the voyage that founded the modern science of oceanography.”
The Challenger Expedition (1872-76) is widely regarded as the voyage that founded the modern science of oceanography, but it would never have happened if it were not for the initial success of Wyville Thomson’s Scottish voyages on Lightning and Porcupine. HMS Challenger itself was the first dedicated scientific exploration vessel in history, having been fitted out for the journey especially. The expedition travelled 70,000 miles and discovered more than 4,000 species. Wyville Thomson and his team of five fellow scientists, including Scottish naturalist John Murray,
© Professor Michael Pacione
Thanks to project funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dynamic Earth is developing plans for a new, dedicated exhibition on Scotland’s natural and historical deepsea heritage within the wider context of modern ocean science. From 2020, coinciding with the Scottish Year of Coasts and Waters, an ocean literacy activity programme across Scotland will enable audiences to find out about the surprisingly rich and beautiful habitats in the deep waters off the north and west of Scotland that paved the way for modern oceanography but are now at risk from a range of human activities. The health and wellbeing of future generations is ultimately dependent on how we engage with and address the sustainability of the Earth; nowhere is this more evident than in the oceans.
The State of the British Coast study: observable changes through art imagery 1770 to present day Professor Robin McInnes OBE FICE FGS FRGS FRSA, Coastal & Geotechnical Services, St Lawrence, Isle of Wight What lessons can we learn from observations of changes affecting the British coast over the last 250 years? How and to what extent have our coastal landscapes, environments and cultural heritage been affected by both natural and anthropogenic influences over that time? Increasingly sophisticated technologies now allow us to observe and monitor changing conditions within our coastal zones, but alongside these tools we can now also take particular advantage of the wisdom of hindsight by interrogating a vast additional resource of historical imagery that is becoming increasingly available online.
“We can now also take particular advantage of the wisdom of hindsight by interrogating a vast additional resource of historical imagery that is becoming increasingly available online.”
Over the last decade the Public Catalogues Foundation (PCF), a registered charity, in collaboration with public art galleries, museums and other owners of artworks across the British Isles, arranged the photographing of nearly all the nation’s 212,000 oil paintings; these are now available for research and interrogation on the Art UK website (artuk.org). In 2016 a new charity, The Watercolour World (www.watercolourworld.org), commenced creating a visual online topographical record of the world through uploading watercolours spanning the period from 1600 to 1900. The Watercolour World website is displaying watercolours recording, for example, coastal topography, architecture, flora and fauna, drawing on the estimated 6.5 million watercolours in public collections in the United Kingdom, as well as some private collections; these are indexed geographically on its website. In view of the fine detail of the watercolour painting technique this medium provides the opportunity to reappraise not just the physical changes affecting the British coast but also changes to the natural environment and our rich cultural heritage over time. Over 90,000 watercolours are already available to view on the website.
Study approach I have long-standing experience of both coastal management and the interpretation of historical artworks and other imagery. Having developed an art ranking system, which has allowed the preparation, for each section of the British coast, of a short-list of those artists and their works that are deemed to be most accurate in their depictions, the study is utilising artworks by key topographical painters. These include the large number of fine Scottish aquatint engravings by William Daniell RA from the period 1814-22, works by Pre-Raphaelite artists and their Followers from the mid-19th century, and watercolours by the architect and artist David Addey who retraced Daniell’s voyage in the 1990s, painting views from Daniell’s vantage points. Combined with presentday photographs, these images provide a chronology that describes coastal change over time in full colour. Collaborative working The year-long study commenced in June 2018 and is being undertaken through close collaboration with a wide range of coastal statutory bodies, organisations, interest groups, museums, art galleries, arts charities and other stakeholders in Scotland, England and Wales. Application of the study results • Improved understanding of long-term coastal evolution and the rate and scale of coastal change • Observing habitats and species changes, gains and losses •E stablishing the chronology of coastal heritage sites and assisting identification of heritage at risk • Raising awareness of local and regional art history • Identification of locations of previously unknown artworks • Bridging science and art Study deliverables 1. A n extensively illustrated State of the British Coast technical report, which will be available online in May 2019 2. Illustrated presentations to partner funding organisations across Great Britain 3. S tate of the British Coast exhibition to be mounted at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh in May 2019.
St Monans, Fife by John Blake McDonald (1829-1910). Oil. Coastal scenes such as this provide details of the nature and form of the beach, coastal defences existing at the time, and the proximity of development to the shore. Parts of Scotland’s eastern coastline have been affected by significant coastal erosion with the potential for increasing levels of risk over the next decades. Image courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. Copyright 1992.
36 SPRING 2019
Albert of Monaco, ‘The Prince of the Sea’ Jo Woolf, RSGS Writer-in-Residence
“The devotion that has been quite lately given to the new science called ‘oceanography’ has decided me to dedicate some of the strongest efforts of my life to its advancement.” (Nature, 1898) On 27th July 1885, an interesting and potentially alarming activity was taking place on board a vessel in the North Atlantic. A passenger on the ship would have noticed that scores of glass bottles were being prepared, each with a message sealed carefully inside. These were then carried up onto the deck, and, at a point about 117 miles north-west of the Azores, the crew began to throw them overboard. Despite the obvious conclusion, there was no air of crisis among the men; the ship was seaworthy, and the weather was favourable. On the contrary: the bottles were being cast into the sea at meticulously measured intervals of one nautical mile. Like missionaries setting off on a journey of their own, they formed part of a scientific experiment which must have been the first of its kind. The bottles were followed, with equal regularity, by 20 small oak barrels and ten hollow copper spheres. All were individually numbered, and anyone lucky enough to pick one up would have discovered the following message:
observed, “It will be interesting to follow the history of these messengers from the sea, and any of our readers who may spend their holidays on the West Coast of Scotland or any of the outlying islands to the west or north, would do well to look out for the Monaco floats, and claim for our country its full share in the genial influences imputed to the Gulf Stream.” Prince Albert’s findings, published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1892, were accompanied by a chart. By that time, 227 floats had been returned to him; they had landed on shores all over the North Atlantic, from Norway and Iceland to Bermuda and Morocco; 29 floats were picked up in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Having worked out their average speed, and ensuring that his study was based on discoveries made soon after they were washed ashore, he proposed that the Atlantic contained an “immense vortex,” comparable to an atmospheric cyclone with a region of calm in the centre, and explained that when floats entered this region they could remain there for months or years.
“Prince Albert conducted valuable research into a huge cross-section of marine science.”
“In order to study ocean currents, with the aid of the Municipal Council of Paris, this paper has been thrown into the sea by the instructions of His Highness the Hereditary Prince of Monaco from his Yacht l’Hirondelle and in his presence. Any one finding this paper is requested to send it to the authorities of his country, to be transmitted to the French Government, and to state with as much detail as possible the place, date, and circumstances in which it has been found. (Signed) ALBERT, Hereditary Prince of Monaco. G POUCHET, Professor in the
Ocean currents were not the only field of investigation. Assisted by a team of scientists and using many ingenious devices which he designed or adapted himself, Prince Albert plumbed the depths of the ocean and was astonished at what he found. He built a deepsea trap which was baited and then lowered to the sea bed by a steel cable; when it was brought to the surface after a couple of days, there must have been a great deal of excitement at what was inside. On one occasion, it yielded 1,198 eels of the species Simenchelys parasitica, which at that time was known only by one or two imperfect examples; on another, it contained 65 specimens of a large new crab, Geryon affinis. The Prince added with delight Scientists and crew aboard the Princesse Alice, 1898. © RSGS archive that several crabs which had not yet found the entrance to the trap “made the whole voyage of many hundreds of fathoms clinging voluntarily to the outside.” Museum of Paris.” (Nature, 1898)
In the late 1800s, our understanding of ocean currents was mostly limited to the reports of long-distance voyagers; no one had devoted years of study to a phenomenon which, after all, was impossible to see. But Albert Honoré Charles Grimaldi, the Crown Prince of Monaco who in 1889 would succeed his father as Prince Albert I, was determined to change that. As a young man, he had served in the Spanish and then the French Navy, and had been awarded the Légion d’honneur. Nicknamed ‘the Navigator Prince’, he had developed a seafarer’s passion for the ocean, and his thirst for understanding inspired him to set sail in a quest for answers. The Prince’s first voyages were dedicated to examining the course of the Gulf Stream. Between 1885 and 1887, he dropped a total of 1,675 different floats between Europe and North America, knowing that their eventual discovery, in terms of time and location, would assist him in his mission to compile a chart of the Atlantic currents. In 1886, the Scottish Geographical Magazine
Throughout his life, Prince Albert conducted valuable research into a huge cross-section of marine science; he led 28 expeditions, and sponsored many others. He also studied meteorology, sending kites up to 4,500 metres to investigate the trade winds, and used a box containing light-sensitive paper to monitor the penetration of sunlight in the darkest parts of the sea. In 1903 and 1910 he chaired a Commission for the International Geographic Congress to produce a bathymetric chart of the world’s oceans. Finding that he had outgrown his first research vessel, he commissioned another, L’Hirondelle II, and this was eventually succeeded by two more ships, the Princesse Alice and Princesse Alice II. He developed a strong interest in the polar regions, and sailed around Spitsbergen with the Scottish explorer and scientist William Speirs Bruce, who became a close friend. When Bruce embarked on his Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1902, he found in Prince Albert a staunch and generous supporter.
The Prince was a guest of the RSGS on several occasions; his signature first appears in the Visitors’ Book in 1891, and he visited Edinburgh again in 1892, when he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Society. In January 1907 he was awarded the Gold (Scottish Geographical) Medal “for his important researches in oceanography” and delivered lectures to audiences in Edinburgh and Glasgow. As guest of honour, he also performed the inauguration of Speirs Bruce’s Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory, which contained many specimens collected during Bruce’s travels in the company of the Prince. The legacy of Prince Albert is best represented in the magnificent Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, which he established in 1910, and in the Maison des Océans which opened in Paris in 1911. As Europe began spiralling into a much darker vortex – that of the Great War – he was a consistent advocate for peace. Speaking to the RSGS in Glasgow, he reminded world leaders that if they would settle quarrels by less costly means, and “preserved more resources for the real interests of humanity,” we would make huge advancements in the field of science. In his appearance, according to one acquaintance, Prince Albert “had a singular resemblance to the captain of a battleship or of an Atlantic liner.” (Obituary by Sir Arthur Shipley). His friends loved him for his modesty and his unfailing courtesy; when he founded an International Institute of Peace in 1903, his hopes lay in promoting “harmonious agreement and removing hatred from the hearts of people.” He chose to use his privilege and influence for the benefit of mankind, and it is this spirit which is being carried forward by his great-great-grandson, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Prince Albert on the bridge of Princesse Alice II, April 1904. © Dr Jules Richard, Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco.
“I have cultivated science because it diffuses knowledge, and knowledge engenders justice.” (Albert I of Monaco, quoted in Marine Science: Decade by Decade by Christina Reed.)
Tracks of the Hirondelle, from Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1892. © RSGS archive
38 SPRING 2019
Blue Planet II
How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet
A New World of Hidden Depths
David Beerling (OUP Oxford, March 2019)
James Honeyborne and Mark Brownlow (BBC Books, October 2017)
Primate Change How the World We Made is Remaking Us Vybarr Cregan-Reid (Cassell, September 2018) Looking at how and why the human body has changed since humankind first got up on two feet, and spanning the entirety of human history, this book investigates where we came from, who we are today and how modern technology will change us beyond recognition. In the last 200 years, humans have made such a tremendous impact on the world that our geological epoch is about to be declared the ‘Anthropocene’. But while we have been busy changing the shape of the world we inhabit, the ways of living that we have been building have, as if under the cover of darkness, been transforming our bodies and altering the expression of our DNA too.
Reader Offer – 25% discount + free UK p&p Offer ends 30th June 2019
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The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest Wade Davis (Vintage, reprint edition October 2012) “The price of life is death.” For Mallory, as for all of his generation, death was but “a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day.” As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. What mattered now was how one lived, and the moments of being alive. While the quest for Mount Everest may have begun as a grand imperial gesture, it ended as a mission of revival for a country and a lost generation bled white by war. In a monumental work of history and adventure, recent RSGS speaker and Mungo Park Medallist Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept climbing on that fateful day.
Readers of The Geographer can buy Into The Silence for only £11.24 (RRP £14.99) with FREE UK P&P. To order, please call 01206 255777 and quote reference ‘WADE SILENCE’.
RSGS: a better way to see the world Phone 01738 455050 or visit www.rsgs.org to join the RSGS. Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU Charity SC015599
Our understanding of ocean life has changed dramatically in the last decade, with new species, new behaviours, and new habitats being discovered at a rapid rate. Blue Planet II is a ground-breaking new look at the richness and variety of underwater life across our planet. With over 200 breath-taking photographs and stills from the BBC Natural History Unit’s spectacular footage, each chapter brings to life a different habitat of the oceanic world. Voyages of migration show how each of the oceans on our planet are connected; coral reefs and Arctic ice communities are revealed as thriving underwater cities; while shorelines throw up continual challenges to those living there or passing through. A final chapter considers what the future holds for marine life based on these discoveries.
How Population Change Will Transform Our World Sarah Harper (OUP Oxford, July 2016) Predicting the shape of our future populations is vital for installing the infrastructure, welfare, and provisions necessary for society to survive. There are many opportunities and challenges that will come with the changes in our populations over the 21st century. Sarah Harper works to dispel myths such as the fear of unstoppable global growth resulting in a population explosion, or that climate change will lead to the mass movement of environmental refugees; and instead considers the future shape of our populations in light of demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and migration, and their national and global impact.
Arabia A Journey Through The Heart of the Middle East Levison Wood (Hodder & Stoughton, November 2018) Following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger, Arabia is an insight into Levison Wood’s most complex and daring expedition yet: an epic and unprecedented 5,000-mile journey through 13 countries, circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula. Honest, reflective and poignant, Arabia is an historical, religious and spiritual journey, through some of the harshest and most beautiful environments on Earth. Exploring the Middle East through the lives, hearts and hopes of its people, Levison Wood challenges the perceptions of an often misunderstood part of the world, seeing how the region has changed and examining the stories we don’t often hear about in the media.
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Over seven billion people depend on plants for healthy, productive, secure lives, but few of us stop to consider the origin of the plant kingdom that turned the world green and made our lives possible. And as the human population continues to escalate, our survival depends on how we treat the plant kingdom and the soils that sustain it. Understanding the evolutionary history of our land floras, the story of how plant life emerged from water and conquered the continents to dominate the planet, is fundamental to our own existence. David Beerling reveals the hidden history of Earth’s sun-shot greenery, and considers its future prospects as we farm the planet to feed the world.