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Editorial

Severe stress on oceans affects us in the mountains

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The fins have to be soaked in cold water for half a day and then boiled with ginger and spring onions. They have no taste of their own.

They are then soaked in tap water for a further four hours before being boiled for six to eight hours with chicken stock and Chinese ham to add flavor.

Shark fin soup conveys status when served and eaten, and the idea of it pervades Chinese society. Serving shark fin soup at auspicious events has been a tradition since the Ming Dynasty among elites, but the Chinese bridal and restaurant industries have turned it into an essential element of any middle-class wedding or important business meal. As China's economy expands, more people are putting the soup on the menu.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (2008), 50 shark species are listed as being at high risk of extinction (either Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable). Another 63 shark species are approaching threatened status.

The just-released report cited at the start of this column came after the first ever interdisciplinary international workshop to consider the cumulative impact of all stressors affecting the ocean. They gathered under the auspices of International Programme on the State of the Ocean and the IUCN and looked at pollution, acidification, ocean warming, overfishing and deoxygenation. What they found is that this combination, along with climate change, is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history, and that this is happening far faster than anyone has predicted.

As examples, the group cited:

•The rate at which carbon is being absorbed by the ocean is already far greater now than at the time of the last globally significant extinction of marine species, some 55 million years ago, when up to 50 per cent of some groups of deep-sea animals were wiped out.

•A single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16 per cent of all the world's tropical coral reefs.

•Overfishing has reduced some commercial fish stocks and populations of by-catch species, such as sharks, by more than 90 per cent.

These are frightening revelations - but rather than turning away we need to make choices about what we eat, what we use in everyday living and how we get rid of our garbage - let's ban plastic water bottles for a start.

We know what needs to happen. What we need now is government to listen and to act.

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