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 buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re 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.’

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY PRINT MAGAZINE!
Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

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...

Wildlife

Invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to…

Nature

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre…

Wildlife

The international conservation agreement CITES is nearly half a century old.…

Wildlife

With Scotland’s salmon under threat, environmental groups are planting trees…

Oceans

As coastal development continues to grow, research begins to reveal the…

Wildlife

Research into rhesus macaques on a remote island finds that survivors of…

Climate

 The release of the latest IPCC report suggests it's 'now…

Wildlife

A new technique to collect animal DNA from thin air could…

Wildlife

As animal species decline, plants that rely on them to…

Nature

Calls to make ecocide a crime are gaining ground

Wildlife

In South Africa, a new wave of poaching has taken…

Tectonics

A volcanologist unpicks the devastating eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai

Oceans

Some areas of the ocean are richer in microplastics than…

Oceans

The ocean floor is home to rich deposits of metals…

Climate

The industry will only keep growing. Could algae help to…

Nature

A monumental effort is underway to map the world’s fungal…

Geophoto

In his project Black Dots, Nicholas JR White set out upon the…

Wildlife

China’s Amur tiger population is recovering, reflecting the country’s changing…

Climate

Scientists are pushing back against the notion that the food…

Geophoto

Xavi Bou's artistic visions of flight beguile the eye