Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The blue acceleration: a race for the seas is on

The blue acceleration: a race for the seas is on
20 May
2020
A compilation of 50-years worth of data on human activity in the ocean reveals that the race for the seas is well and truly on

‘You often hear that the ocean is the next frontier for humanity to expand into. But what's quite striking when you look at our graphs is that it actually started 20 years ago,’ says Jean Baptiste Jouffray from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, lead author of a new study titled the ‘Blue Acceleration’.

By synthesizing 50 years of data from shipping, drilling, deep-sea mining, aquaculture, bioprospecting, protected areas and several other industries, Jouffray and his team have compiled a comprehensive overview of human interference in the ocean to date. ‘The results were a bit of a surprise,’ adds Jouffray, ‘because I myself was perpetrating this narrative of the ocean as the next frontier. Of course, there is some truth in that. But it's also important to recognise that we're moving already.’

Some of the industries analysed are already well-established. The largest ocean industry is the oil and gas sector, responsible for about one-third of the value of the ocean economy (nearly 70 per cent of the major discoveries of hydrocarbon deposits between 2000 and 2010 happened offshore). Sand and gravel are the ocean's most mined minerals to meet demand from the construction industry, and, as freshwater becomes an increasingly scarce commodity, around 16,000 desalination plants have sprung up around the world in the last 50 years.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonSince its inception in 1935, Geographical has reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of our world and take a broader perspective. In these turbulent times, we’re still committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Others are only just coming to the fore. The study reports that exploratory licenses for deep-sea mining have been granted for more than 1.3 million km2 of the seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction - exploitation regulations are expected to be approved within the next two years. And, the extraction of genetic material from deep-sea organisms is also gathering pace. Many ocean creatures are of particular interest to industries such as pharmaceuticals, because they have evolved to thrive under extreme conditions of pressure, temperature, salinity, or darkness. Enabled by advances in sampling technologies and remotely operated vehicles, over 34,000 natural products have so far been described from species found in the ocean. Interference also includes conservation measures. The area protected from exploitation has increased exponentially with a surge since 2000 that shows no signs of slowing.

All of this action, says Jouffrey raises important questions, in particular, who benefits from human activity in the ocean. ‘Because of the barriers to entry - so how expensive it still is to actually go out there in the ocean, - you do see a lot of highly consolidated industries,’ he says. ‘If we see the ocean as this common, shared inheritance of humanity, then how do we actually ensure that it's the case - who's benefiting or rather who is not benefiting? I think that is an increasingly important question as we try to steer this race in the right direction. I think it's not only from a sustainable, environmental perspective that we need to be really aware of it, but also from a social aspect, to make sure that it is not only the few that reap the benefits.’

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonAs we brace ourselves on our personal islands, it can be hard to picture the processes of the planet continuing to whir. Marooned in our homes, it’s vital that we stay positive, motivated and informed. Geographical is committed to helping you explore the world from the comfort of your sofa. Get the world delivered to your door, with Geographical.

Subscribe today to Geographical’s monthly print and digital magazine and save 30% off the cover price! 

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

Though the pandemic has gripped the world's attention, lying just…

Climate

The IPCC embraced the notion of carbon offset schemes in…

Geophoto

The shortlist for the 2020 Wellcome Photography Prize has been…

Climate

Millions have been displaced due to severe floods in central…

Wildlife

A portable DNA assay could revolutionise the way border officials…

Climate

A handy gathering of facts about carbon emissions with graphs…

Oceans

Researchers have revealed just how many polluting microfibres are released…

Wildlife

Increasing reports of seized jaguar fangs and skin suggest that…

Geophoto

Forced isolation has given many of us the chance to…

Oceans

A fifth of the ocean floor has now been mapped,…

Wildlife

Four ex-circus lions discovered in France are due to be…

Oceans

A roundup of some of the top discussions from the…

Energy

The agave plant, used to make Tequila, has proven itself…

Climate

Concerns about the ozone hole have diminished as levels of…

Wildlife

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Munu – a…

Geophoto

Photography competition, Earth Photo, returns for the third year with…

Oceans

A new study reveals the process behind the strange phenomenon…