The ongoing destruction of life-supporting ecosystems such as coral reefs and rainforests means humans risk living in an “empty world” with “catastrophic” consequences for society, according to Mrema, who is responsible for spearheading a Paris-style agreement for nature that will be negotiated this year.
“People’s lives depend on biodiversity in ways that are not always apparent or appreciated. Human health ultimately depends on ecosystem services: the availability of fresh water, fuel, food sources. All these are prerequisites for human health and livelihoods,” she told the Guardian in her first major interview since taking up the role.
In May last year, the world’s leading scientists warned that nature is disappearing at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average for the past 10m years. Experts have previously warned that humans are driving the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, cautioning there is a short time to act.
In all her years working at Bodega Bay, the marine reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones had never seen anything like it: scores of dead mussels on the rocks, their shells gaping and scorched, their meats thoroughly cooked.
Move along … no cause for concern.
A record-breaking June heatwave apparently caused the largest die-off of mussels in at least 15 years at Bodega Head, a small headland on the northern California bay. And Sones received reports from other researchers of similar mass mussel deaths at various beaches across roughly 140 miles of coastline.
While the people who flocked to the Pacific to enjoy a rare 80F beach day soaked up the sun, so did the mussel beds – where the rock-bound mollusks could have been experiencing temperatures above 100F at low tide, literally roasting in their shells.
Sones expects the die-off to affect the rest of the seashore ecosystem. “Mussels are known as a foundation species. The equivalent are the trees in a forest – they provide shelter and habitat for a lot of animals, so when you impact that core habitat it ripples throughout the rest of the system,” said Sones.
Every year, as autumn turns to winter and ocean temperatures off Massachusetts drop below 10C (50F), dead, dying and stricken sea turtles wash up on the shores of Cape Cod as those shelled reptiles that have failed to migrate south start to die in the chilly waters.
In the 1980s, the number of sea turtles stranded on the shores of Cape Cod every year averaged in the dozens. That average went up through the 1990s and 2000s, but over the past decade it has risen dramatically: 2014 saw more than 1,200 turtles make landfall. This year, more than 790 sea turtles have washed up on Cape Cod so far. Some 720 of those are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species that nests on the shores of the much warmer Gulf of Mexico.
While many people, thanks in large part to David Attenborough, are now quite well informed about wildlife, we remain astonishingly ignorant about what is happening to it.
Tens of thousands of creatures are piled up ankle-deep in places along the Holderness coast in Yorkshire and similar mass mortality has been reported in Kent and Norfolk.
“There was a 3C drop in sea temperature last week which will have caused animals to hunker down and reduce their activity levels,” said Bex Lynam, from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. “This makes them vulnerable to rough seas – they became dislodged by large waves and washed ashore when the rough weather kicked in.”