According to recent findings, half of the ocean’s wildlife is on the verge of extinction, as a result of climate change and overfishing.
The study was conducted by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London. The results, analyzing trends in 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, were published in the “Living Blue Planet” report on September 15.
Based on available data, researchers have established that the total marine vertebrate population has dropped by 49% since 1970. For example, fish species have been depleted by more than a half, with the number of mackerels, tunas and bonitos dwindling by 74%.
The marine Living Planet Index (LPI) is therefore similar to the global LPI, which has identified a 52% drop in the number of vertebrates in the last 45 years.
Overall, the most significant decline occurred between 1970 and the mid 1980’s, but in recent years the downward trend has been accelerating once again.
One of the main factors contributing to this population decline is overexploitation, which takes place in 29% of all marine fisheries.
This has led to 1 in 4 species of sharks, skates and rays facing extinction, which is particularly dangerous since these species tend to be slow at maturing and reproducing.
Even the polar region of the Southern Ocean experienced a severe decline in fish numbers, due to illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing. In recent years however this trend has slowed down thanks to stricter regulations.
Another culprit threatening marine populations is global warming: reef-building corals have halved since the 1970’s, and if temperatures continue to rise, the ocean will be too warm for these invertebrates to survive.
The corals provide habitat for more than 25% of all marine species, but they cover just 0.1% of the ocean, and three-quarters of their surface is threatened.
Another troubling issue is pollution: global seas are filled with over 5 trillion plastic objects, weighing 250,000 tonnes. In addition, seabed mining takes place on more than 1.2 million square kilometers of the ocean floor, and ship traffic has quadrupled in the last 20 years.
In view of these findings, conservationists should receive broader support, especially given the fact that almost 3 billion people use marine and freshwater fish as a major source of protein.
Moreover, 10-12% of the world’s population depends on fisheries and aquaculture to ensure their livelihood, and the ocean generates revenues of $2.5 trillion on a yearly basis.
Currently, a mere 3.4% of the ocean is protected by regulations, and most of it tends to be mismanaged.
If we were to increase the surface of these protected marine habitats to 30%, we would not only contribute to preserving a variety of species, but we would also experience profits of up to $920 billion by 2050.
Other solutions proposed by the WWF are the following: the adoption of sustainable fishing practices that discourage exploitation, stricter rules against illegal fishing and reductions in carbon dioxide emission.
As long as these measures are implemented immediately, the ocean still has the chance to recover and to maintain its fascinating diversity.
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