Our Dying Seas

A recent study conducted by an international team of ecologists and economists predicts that the majority of saltwater fish will be extinct by 2048, due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. Already, 29 percent of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90 percent, only one percent of the global ocean is effectively protected.

But the issue isn’t just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide.

“A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast; thus the loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences,” Worm and colleagues say.

The researchers analyzed data from 32 experiments on different marine environments.

They then analyzed the 1,000-year history of 12 coastal regions around the world, including San Francisco and Chesapeake bays in the U.S., and the Adriatic, Baltic, and North seas in Europe.

Next, they analyzed fishery data from 64 large marine ecosystems.

And finally, they looked at the recovery of 48 protected ocean areas.

Their bottom line: Everything that lives in the ocean is important. The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest.

But the loss of species isn’t gradual. It’s happening fast — and getting faster, the researchers say.

The researchers conclude that it is not too late to reverse the trend, provided we act quickly to established sustainable fisheries management, control pollution, maintain habitats, and create more ocean reserves. Of course, acting both speedily and decisively, in an international context, is far from easy.  It’s the classic tragedy of the commons: why should anyone cease their consumption or extraction of resources if they don’t think anyone else will either?

That’s one of the reasons why most solutions are to established public, semi-public, or cooperative institutions to manage and protect global resources. But again, the desire to consume freely — combined with the inability to grasp the bigger picture — gets in the way. But a lot is at stake, especially since half of the world’s population directly lives off the sea (and nearly all of us depend on its resources in one way or another). Will that be enough to get us to act before it’s too late?

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