Ocean optimism: Study says we can restore marine health
- A new study finds that it’s possible to repair the world’s oceans to a substantial level in three decades, as long as appropriate measures are taken to protect vulnerable marine species and habitats, rebuild damaged ecosystems, and alleviate the pressures of climate change.
- Several models of success are used to demonstrate that repairing the oceans is a realistic goal, including the positive impacts of wildlife trade and hunting regulations to protect endangered species and critical habitats.
- The biggest challenge in reinstating global ocean health is mitigating the effects of climate change, the authors say.
The future for the world’s oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean’s future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
The key to success, the authors say, is lessening the impact and stresses on the ocean, while restoring damaged ecosystems, and trying to reduce carbon emissions that drive climate change.
This study examines nine parts of the ocean in detail — salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna, and the deep ocean — and suggests critical and realistic steps that can be taken to restore and protect these areas.
The authors refer to several models of success for reversing the decline of marine life. For instance, the global wildlife trade treaty CITES and and a 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling have reduced hunting of endangered species and helped protect the critical habitats these species depend upon. Depleted fish populations have also rebounded in response to proper management techniques.
While the study fosters an optimistic view of future ocean health, it concedes that some parts of the ocean will be more difficult to restore. For instance, coral reef systems have the added pressure of bleaching events due to climate change, and the process of restoring damaged reefs is slow and expensive. However, the study notes that there are efforts to discover coral that’s resistant to temperature change and bleaching events.