New Study Finds Heavy Human Impacts on World's Oceans

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First-ever global study of human influences on marine areas finds significant effects; few "wild waters" still exist.

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The challenges for ocean conservation are at an all-time high. But if we keep a sensible perspective and take proactive steps to start properly managing our oceans, and our adjacent lands, the situation is not hopeless and we can reverse these impacts

Damage to oceans is ubiquitous and threatens the long-term health of marine areas, according to a new study co-authored by Nature Conservancy marine scientist Mark Spalding.

The report, being published in Science tomorrow and posted online today, is accompanied by the first-ever global map revealing how and where mankind has impacted ocean ecosystems.

"We have always relied on oceans for aesthetic beauty, seafood, and global commerce, but we need to rethink our relationship with the sea," said Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. "These findings show we must protect and restore our oceans to ensure sustainability for future generations. If we don't act quickly, we risk severe consequences to coastal economies and the local communities that depend on fish as their primary food source."

Led by researchers at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of Santa Barbara, the University of Hawaii and Stanford University, a total of 19 scientists from academia, nonprofit organizations and government institutions examined how impacts such as overfishing, climate change pollution and invasive species are affecting different ecosystems - from coral reefs and mangrove forests to continental shelves and the deep ocean.

Specific findings outlined in the report include:

  •     The worst affected oceans are adjacent to densely populated coastlines, such as the northern Atlantic -- both on the U.S. seaboard and around northern Europe -- and the western Pacific (Japan, Korea, China and into Southeast Asia).
  • Unsustainable levels of fishing are one of the greatest threats to oceans all over the world.
  • Climate change presents a many-faceted threat, including warming waters, increasing acidification of the ocean and coral bleaching. The problems posed by climate change bring human threats to even the most pristine of ocean waters.
  • Coastal waters - shallow and often close to manmade infrastructure - are some of the most threatened marine habitats, due to pollution, invasive species, and coastal development (buildings, harbors, oil and gas platforms) combined with sever over-fishing.

By examining multiple and complex threats as well as the vulnerabilities of sensitive ecosystems, this study presents the most comprehensive ocean health analysis to date. The combination and accumulation of threats is the most alarming factor causing declines in the majority of the world's oceans. In the Caribbean, for example, coral reef ecosystems have suffered chronic overfishing, nutrient pollution and coral bleaching caused by warming waters. These varied impacts have frequently caused complete ecosystem collapse and resulted in reduced storm protection from loss of natural disaster barriers, reduced incomes from tourism, and depleted fish catches that impact the global economy.

"The challenges for ocean conservation are at an all-time high. But if we keep a sensible perspective and take proactive steps to start properly managing our oceans, and our adjacent lands, the situation is not hopeless and we can reverse these impacts," commented Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist and co-author of the report. "There are still areas that have not been impacted by humans -- we need to prioritize urgent and large-scale conservation efforts that could protect these areas."

The Nature Conservancy's global marine program is working to influence ocean regulations that ensure fisheries are fairly and sustainably managed, minimize pollution and runoff from coastal development, and to implement shipping and aquaculture controls that would prevent damage from aquatic invasive species.

For more information on this report, visit http://www.nature.org/marinethreats.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at http://www.nature.org.

Contact
Cristina Mestre, 703.841.8779, cmestre @ tnc.org

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