Experts Warn Urgent Action Needed to Protect Marine Biodiversity

(CN) – While environmental conservation still maintains a terrestrial focus, an increasing number of scientific researchers are calling for a heightened concentration on the need for oceanic care.

An international study published Friday and led by the University of Queensland in Australia reported that nearly a quarter of the world’s oceans require urgent conservation measures if the teeming marine biodiversity is to be preserved.

These rare dandelion siphonophore were photographed in 2014 in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, via NRDC)

“Conserving the areas we’ve identified in our study would give all marine species a reasonable amount of space to live free from human impacts like fishing, commercial shipping or pesticide runoff,” said Kendall Jones, lead author of the study published in the journal One Earth.

Without strict conservation measures that cover at least 26% of Earth’s oceans, the risk that human activity will impinge on the flourishing of the many species that thrive beneath the surface of the water only grows.

“Currently one-third of all marine species have less than 10% of their range protected,” Jones said. “Conserving the areas we’ve identified in our study would give all marine species a reasonable amount of space to live free from human impacts like fishing, commercial shipping or pesticide runoff.”

In coming up with their numbers, the scientists mapped more than 22,000 habitats for marine species the world over and applied mathematical formulas to derive the minimum number required to conserve a sufficient portion of each habitat’s range.

The findings yielded the 26% number, although the amount of ocean needed to protect biodiversity could be as high as 41%, depending on the species.

“This science shows that governments must act boldly, as they did for the Paris Agreement on climate change if we are to stop the extinction crisis facing many marine species,” said Queensland Professor James Watson, another author of the study.

The report says conservation efforts need particular focus on preserving areas in the Northern Pacific Ocean near China and Japan and the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and the Americas.

The study comes at a particularly crucial juncture, as the world’s nations are set to convene in China to discuss global management of the oceans.

“The world’s nations will be coming together in China this year to sign an agreement that will guide global conservation for the next ten years,” Watson said.

That agreement and the conversation surrounding it must not only focus on the more immediate need to stave off the extinction of vulnerable and endangered species, but also on the broader management of the entire oceanic system, the report says.

“This isn’t just about strict marine protected areas,” Watson said. “We need to use a broad range of strategies such as no-fishing zones, community marine reserves and broad-scale policies to put an end to illegal and unsustainable commercial fishing operations.”

Fishing industry observers estimate more than 30% of the catch worldwide is conducted by illegal fishing operations. The practice not only harms ecosystems, biodiversity and endangered species but hurts legitimate commercial fishing enterprises who either cannot find enough catch or have their quotas reduced due to the depredations of illegal operations.

It’s why the conservation measures forwarded by Jones and Watson and the rest of the international team are not only beneficial for the ocean and its inhabitants, but the authors argue the conservation program is good for humans as well.

“Millions of people around the world depend on marine biodiversity as a crucial source of food and income,” Watson said. “A well-designed global conservation agreement will help preserve these livelihoods into the future.”

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