Marine life has been on a decline and the situation is getting even worse in the last 40 years. The exact drop is 49 percent, according to one of the most extensive studies of marine life. The “Living Blue Planet Report,” published by World Wildlife Fund working together with the Zoological Society of London, gives evidence to the extraordinary losses. Shockingly, some fish populations have even declined by almost 75 percent of what they once were.
The creators of the study trace the sudden population drops to habitat destruction, over-exploitation, pollution, and human-driven climate change.
We are killing it … literally.
“In less time than a human life span, we can observe serious losses in marine wildlife. The populations have declined by half of what they used to be and now their habitats have been altered to a certain level or destroyed entirely.” Brad Ack, senior vice president for Oceans at WWF, told Under Science. “At the base for all those things are our humans’ actions: from overfishing and resource exhaustion to coastal pollution to the greenhouse gas emissions inducing ocean warming and making the water more acidic – impacting coral reefs and putting whole ecosystems at risk.”
The discoveries were verified from researchers that surveyed more than 10,000 populations of 3,038 aquatic species, composed of fish, birds, mammals, and reptiles. The study indicates that close to one-third of the world’s fish populations are overfished, and 1 in 4 species of sharks, rays and skates are now endangered from dying out.
Some shark types “have seen a dramatic drop in their populations across the globe due to overfishing,” and from other human-driven causes, explained Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University, who did not participate in the research.
Yet another significant discovery from the report is that three-quarters of the planet’s coral reefs are currently endangered. If we keep warming and making the ocean more acidic, it is estimated that all coral reefs will be lost by the year 2050.
“The corals are in difficulty from low-quality water due to deforestation and coastal development, along with the rise of fishing activity on favorable animals that help them stay in good condition, such as reef fish,” Ack stated.
Fish are the main protein source for a third of us humans, but we are wiping them out. Every year we discard as much as 40 billion pounds of dead fish as bycatch because it wasn’t the species we were targeting. “We are slicing off the top of the food web by overfishing. Which is a global problem that has really accelerated dramatically over the last 50 years, with the industrialization of global fisheries” stated Dr. Boris Worm a Marine Biologist from Dalhousie University. “Today, there’s really no place on the planet that is not impacted by the effects of fishing.”
“In the long-term, ocean warming from climate change and ocean acidification from excess carbon absorption will pose a significant threat to reefs around the world.” Ack stated. “With the current rates of temperature growth, seas and oceans will become too hot for coral reefs to survive by 2050, thus terminating the planet’s most biologically diverse marine ecosystem.”
Right now, some coral reefs are still able to recover from disturbances, like bleaching, major storms, and small pollution problems. However, the rise in acidity in the ocean water restricts the ability of corals to bounce back from these and other threats, contributing to the downward trend.
Brad Ack and his fellow workers call for urgent measures to suppress the decline, such as putting an end to illegal fishing and conserving coral reefs, mangroves, and other endangered ocean environments.
In the study report, Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, stated that “humanity is collectivity messing up the ocean to the point of total collapse.”
“Taking everything in mind, the ocean has an important role in our economies and it is a vital contributor to our food security – especially for poor, coastal societies – and that’s simply unacceptable,” he stated. “Could it be that the economic implications of the downfall of the ocean’s ecosystems will start the next global collapse or erode the progress we have made so far on eliminating poverty?”
Lambertini stated that “we can and we must correct our past and current mistakes if we wish to see any improvement not only on marine ecosystems but on our life as well.”
The ocean is not limitless!
It is a very fragile place that has already been compromised. We have to accept that the ocean is changing very rapidly and if we continue to increase carbon dioxide levels it will become more acidic, less oxygenated and lower in phytoplankton. There will be less life to support the fundamental ecosystem processes, that have been going on for millions of years.
If we want to stop that from happening, we have to address overfishing, water pollution, and climate change, simultaneously. The thing that gives us the greatest amount of hope is that we see more and more people that are concerned about this problem. There is a huge tide of interest in the ocean and ocean conservation, that simply wasn’t there 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of people are aware that their personal choices, like what fish they eat, what are they doing with their garbage and how to dispose of it correctly, so it doesn’t end up in the ocean, sea, or any ecosystem damaging it severely, matter. The good thing is that growing awareness and that mindfulness is increasing very rapidly, particularly among young people.