"The rise of slime:" "A Primeval Tide of Toxins"
In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.
Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.
Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.
Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing "the rise of slime."
For many years, it was assumed that the oceans were too vast for humanity to damage in any lasting way. "Man marks the Earth with ruin," wrote the 19th century poet Lord Byron. "His control stops with the shore."
Even in modern times, when oil spills, chemical discharges and other industrial accidents heightened awareness of man's capacity to injure sea life, the damage was often regarded as temporary.
But over time, the accumulation of environmental pressures has altered the basic chemistry of the seas...
Many of the same forces have wiped out 80% of the corals in the Caribbean, despoiled two-thirds of the estuaries in the United States and destroyed 75% of California's kelp forests, once prime habitat for fish.
Jackson uses a homespun analogy to illustrate what is happening. The world's 6 billion inhabitants, he says, have failed to follow a homeowner's rule of thumb: Be careful what you dump in the swimming pool, and make sure the filter is working.
"We're pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution," Jackson said, "a half-billion years ago when the oceans were ruled by jellyfish and bacteria."