Katie Byng-Hall discusses the latest call to action by leading scientists to revive our planet's oceans before it is too late.
Photo by Valdemaras D.
A group of leading global scientists has suggested, in a new review published in Nature magazine, that there is a chance that the world’s oceans could be restored by 2050, but only if we take drastic action immediately.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Carlos Duarte of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, says that, 'we know what we ought to do to rebuild marine life, and we have evidence that this goal can be achieved within three decades [...] Indeed, this requires that we accelerate our efforts, and spread them to areas where efforts are currently modest'. The report has concluded that the oceans are more resilient than we might expect, but they cannot withstand the abuse humanity is subjecting them to for much longer. Currently, at least one-third of fish stocks are over-fished, one third to half of vulnerable marine habitats have been lost, and a substantial proportion of all coastal oceans suffer from pollution, eutrophication, oxygen depletion, and ocean warming. In 2015, it was predicted that the amount of rubbish in the oceans could double by 2025. All of these factors must be rectified if the oceans are to return to their former glory.
A Ray of Hope
The prospects for marine life have not all been disheartening in recent years. The proportion of marine species considered to be close to extinction by the IUCN dropped from 18% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2019, with sea otters in western Canada rising in numbers from just dozens forty years ago to thousands now, and both grey seal and cormorant populations are rocketing in the Baltic Sea. The United Nations has launched its Sustainable Development Goals initiative, setting out a set of aims to be completed globally to save the planet. Goal 14 is to 'conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development', and it is hoped that the UN taking action will encourage member states around the world to follow suit.
'Science gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of our oceans, but we are not currently doing enough in the UK or globally' – Prof Callum Roberts, marine conservation biologist at the University of York.
Plan of Action
Nature’s report suggests that we should focus on restoring nine key aspects of ocean health in the restoration mission, namely: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep ocean. It proposes that we approach the clean-up by taking fundamental action in protecting species, harvesting wisely and restoring habitats such as coral reefs. According to Dr Duarte, we are all currently 'failing to embrace this challenge, and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support good livelihoods is not an option'.
Scientists have predicted that the restoration of the oceans would cost roughly $10-20 billion per year until 2050 to rebuild marine life fully, but the eventual return rate on this investment would be around 10 times this. Revenue generated by ocean industry already constitutes 2.5% of the world’s GDP, and with the ‘ocean economy’ expected to double to £2 trillion by 2030, investment in its future seems sensible.
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