By Roberta Attanasio
Stories of the past tell us that our oceans are deep, mysterious and indestructible—but oceans are quickly changing, bowing to biological degradation and much more. Oceans are damaged every day by oil and gas drilling, pollution, and industrial impacts. Human activities are changing the ocean’s chemistry, destroying habitats, and killing marine life.
The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its corals since 1995, and a report released in 2019 on the state of global biodiversity found that over one-third of marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and shark relatives are threatened with extinction.
Overfishing is one of the primary threats to ocean biodiversity—it endangers not only oceans’ ecosystems but also the billions of people who rely on seafood as a key source of protein. Fish that were once extremely abundant, such as bluefin tuna, are now becoming increasingly endangered.
“The ocean is the kind of unwaveringly supportive friend who tolerates our toxicity and shields us from the worst consequences of our actions. It’s the friend people have taken for granted for far too long. By overfishing and mining and drilling the seafloor, humans are risking not just the ocean’s health but our own.”
Now, a new study published in the journal Nature (March 17, 2012) by an international team of marine biologists, climate experts and economists suggests potential solutions to the continuous deterioration of ocean health. The study (Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate) found that a strategic and globally coordinated effort to safeguard specific areas of the ocean threatened by human activities could provide multiple benefits— protect nearly 80% of marine species, increase fishing catches by more than 8 million metric tons and prevent the release of more than one billion tons of carbon dioxide.
The researchers mapped specific areas of the ocean threatened by human activities to create a practical “blueprint” that governments can use as they implement their commitments to protect nature.
Study’s lead author Enric Sala said: “Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection. In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that — if protected —will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions. It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realize those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.”
Co-author Juan Mayorga added: “There is no single best solution to save marine life and obtain these other benefits. The solution depends on what society—or a given country—cares about, and our study provides a new way to integrate these preferences and find effective conservation strategies.”