While it’s no surprise that the Earth’s oceans have been suffering at the hands of mankind’s polluting nature, new figures taken from a report into the worldwide health levels of our planet’s seas make for stark reading.
As well as the widely-quoted figure of a 49 per cent decline in the size of marine populations between 1970 and 2012 – even higher for many edible species, such as tuna and mackerel – using figures obtained by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s Living Planet Index, the report also casts a critical eye over the detrimental impacts of activities besides fishing, activities that include shipping, tourism, the dumping of plastics and other waste, plus the extractive industries of oil and gas mining.
‘These activities need to be governed together, and they need to be enforced,’ says Dr Simon Walmsley, Marine Manager at WWF International, the body behind the production of the report. ‘The whole governance mechanism of the oceans, if you compare it to land, is more or less the Wild West, particularly those areas of high seas where you go beyond areas of national jurisdiction and one singular state doesn’t have control.’
‘Healthy seas are the bedrock of a well-functioning global economy,’ adds Louise Heaps, Chief Adviser on Marine Policy at WWF UK. ‘Our oceans have long been “out of sight and out of mind” and this needs to change. There are clear steps that all governments, including our own, can take to restore our oceans. Creating networks of well-managed Marine Protected Areas is a proven way to enable wildlife and habitats to recover, and could also deliver a strong social and economic return on investment, while pushing for a strong global deal on climate change would help the seas sustain life.’
The WWF’s report puts a strong emphasis on the crucial role the oceans play with regards to climate change, as both a potential danger to billions of people living near the coast, but also their ability to mitigate the long-term negative impacts.
‘If the Amazon is the lungs of the planet, I’d say the sea is the liver of the planet,’ adds Dr Walmsley. ‘Without the buffering capacity the sea has, the effects of climate change would be even worse.’
This article was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.