A new study claims marine life in oceans could recover by 2050 if humans change their behaviour - but warns we are at a 'crossroads'.
The research, published in the Journal Nature found: "Recovery rates across studies suggest that substantial recovery of the 'abundance, structure and function' of marine life could be achieved by 2050, if major pressures - including climate change - are mitigated. It added: "Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future." The study, involving scientists at the University of York, used evidence from successful conservation interventions around the globe to recommend crucial steps the international community can take to restore the abundance of marine life. The study continued: "The ability of the ocean to support human wellbeing is at a crossroads.
"The ocean currently contributes 2.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and provides employment to 1.5% of the global workforce. "The conflict between the growing dependence of humans on ocean resources and the decline in marine life under human pressures is focusing the attention on the connection between ocean conservation and human wellbeing. "Here we show that, in addition to being a necessary goal, substantially rebuilding marine life within a human generation is largely achievable, if the required actions—including, notably, the mitigation of climate change—are deployed at scale." "Currently, at least one-third of fish stocks are overfished, one-third to half of vulnerable marine habitats have been lost, a substantial fraction of the coastal ocean suffers from pollution, eutrophication, oxygen depletion and is stressed by ocean warming and many marine species are threatened with extinction. "Nevertheless, biodiversity losses in the ocean are less pronounced than on land and many marine species are capable of recovery once pressures are reduced or removed. "Substantial areas of wilderness remain in remote regions and large populations of marine animals are still found, for example, in mesopelagic (200–1,000m depth) ocean waters." Co-author of the study, Professor Callum Roberts from the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, said: “The success of many marine conservation projects in recent years illustrates how we can make a real difference to life in our oceans if we apply the lessons learnt from them at scale and with urgency.
“Over-fishing and climate change are tightening their grip, but there is hope in the science of restoration. We now have the skills and expertise to be able to restore vital marine habitats such as oyster reefs, mangrove swamps and salt marshes - which keep our seas clean, our coasts protected and provide food to support entire ecosystems.” “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.” The review states that the recovery rate of marine life can be accelerated to achieve substantial recovery within two to three decades for most components of marine ecosystems, if climate change is tackled and efficient interventions are deployed at large scale. The researchers have identified nine components integral to rebuilding marine life, saltmarshes, mangroves, seagrass, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep-sea. The report identifies specific actions within the broad themes of, protecting species, harvesting wisely, protecting spaces, restoring habitats, reducing pollution and the mitigation of climate change. The actions recommended include identified opportunities, benefits, possible roadblocks and remedial actions. They provide a tangible road map to deliver a healthy ocean providing huge benefits for people and planet. The report states that success largely depends upon the support of a committed, resilient global partnership of governments and societies aligned with this goal. It will also require a substantial commitment of financial resources, but the new study reveals that the ecological, economic and social gains from rebuilding marine life will be far-reaching. Lead author of the study, Dr Carlos Duarte, Professor of Marine Science and Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said:
“We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren's generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so. “Failing to embrace this challenge, and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods is not an option.” To read the full research click here