by Edward Dorson

I love the ocean, particularly the life that abounds within coral reefs. This bond drives both my creativity and activism.

While I want people to take in my underwater photography as a celebration of incredible life, as a conservationist I must also accompany these visions with a sobering fact: with the exception of jellyfish and cephalopods, these representatives of aquatic species are all facing obliteration within the next 20 years. This is really happening...I have seen the accelerating degradation of the reefs firsthand. Without rapid remedial action, photographers may soon be unable to find these subjects...their habitat may only exist in the archives of extinction.

As reported by the Monaco Declaration, increasing atmospheric CO2 from burning fossil fuels has acidified seawater to levels that are dissolving the calcium carbonate structure of corals and other calcifying species at unprecedented rates. 40% of the world’s reefs are already dead or in severe decline and nearly all remaining reefs are under increasing threat of collapse from sources such as overfishing, coastal development and pollution. The World Resources Institute report, "Reefs at Risk Revisited," concludes that by 2030 over 90% of coral reefs will be dead or dying. Without healthy reefs, the ocean cannot perform vital functions such as producing thousands of species that provide food, coastal protection and raw materials for medicines.

Earlier this year, the ocean's critical condition was examined by a coalition of marine scientists at the International Program on the State of the Ocean. They considered the cumulative impact of global warming, acidification, and overfishing. Their conclusion was that the ocean was now approaching catastrophic, potentially irreversible change. They were unequivocal about the future consequence: "If the ocean continues to decline, it will reach a point where it can no longer function effectively and our planet will be unable to sustain the ecosystems that support humankind."

Market determined forces are increasingly dominating and destroying the natural world at a pace that is causing the planet's 6th mass extinction event. While there's vast scientific proof revealing this catastrophe, the marketers of non-renewable extraction and unsustainable exploitation have consciously engineered a virtual blackout of such evidence.

The efforts of environmental organizations and scattered activists aren't enough to deal with the scale of the crisis besieging the ocean. The remedy involves many more people speaking out and acting on fundamental principles of will and morality.

Here are some key actions individuals can take:

• Avoid needless consumption and dispose harmful waste responsibly. We’re all coastal citizens, even from the furthest point inland. Waste and fertilizer runoff eventually reach the sea through waterways and are a major source of deadly ocean pollution.

• Opt for locally produced food and avoid purchases that enrich factory farming. Overfishing isn't solely driven by direct human consumption. Massive amounts of fish go into animal feed for factory farms and aquaculture.

• Demand proper labeling everywhere seafood is sold and only consume green-listed species. Nearly all environmental pollutants such as PCBs, dioxin and mercury that accumulate in fish and aquatic invertebrates comes from human activities such as discarding plastics, burning coal and producing chlorine and cement. Without proper labeling, people are unknowingly ingesting seafood laden with these toxic substances. Such toxicants have been linked to cancer, nervous system disorders and fetal damage.

• Join volunteer groups that go on excursions that aid in marine conservation efforts.

• Write your Senators and Representatives as well as your local politicians. Vigorously demand they uphold and strengthen conservation standards allowing us to conserve the oceans, coral reefs and the ecosystems they support.

As conditions worsen for the ocean, the essential issue is whether or not the present profit-obsessed culture will be allowed to continue in its trajectory towards inescapable collapse. As such, a threshold has now been reached that demands unprecedented, result-oriented action. The outcome will determine our planet's future...not for a hundred years, but for millions of years. The ocean can still possibly heal, but only if the carnage is swiftly replaced with a global renaissance of respite, restoration and stewardship.

© 2011 Edward Dorson