Report shows dwindling fortunes for oceans
Findings of the report show that populations of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been reduced - on average - by half globally in the last four decades; with some fish declining by close to 75%. The latest findings spell serious challenges for all nations, especially communities in the developing world.
Speaking during the launch of the report, WWF Kenya Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Awer noted that profound measures would need to be taken to preserve important ocean ecosystems around the world.
“We have published this report to provide a picture of the state of oceans globally. “In the space of one generation, human activity continues to negatively impact oceans, which contain key resources such as fish and key habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves. Meaningful changes need to be made to ensure abundant ocean life for future generations, said Mr. Awer.
The report’s findings indicate that species essential to commercial and subsistence fishing – and thus global food supply – may be suffering the greatest decline. Underscoring the severe drop in commercial fish stocks, the report details the dramatic loss of 74% of the family of popular food fish that include tuna, mackerel and bonitos.
“This vital asset base is under serious threat from controllable human actions that are driving rapid decline in the health of oceans. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing continues to be a serious threat to our young fisheries and marine life,” noted Mr Awer.
The report shows a decline of 49% of marine populations between 1970 and 2012. The analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, making the data sets almost twice as large as past studies and giving a clearer, more troubling picture of ocean health.
The findings are based on the Living Planet Index, a database maintained and analyzed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). In response to alarming statistics raised in WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014, this special report studies how overfishing, damage to habitat and climate change are affecting marine biodiversity.
Adding to the crisis of falling fish populations, the report shows steep declines in coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses that support fish species and provide valuable services to people.
Over one-third of fish tracked by the report rely on coral reefs, and these species show a dangerous decline of 34% between 1979 and 2010. Research shows that coral reefs could be lost across the globe by 2050 as a result of climate change. With over 25% of all marine species living in coral reefs and about 850 million people directly benefiting from their economic, social and cultural services, the loss of coral reefs would be a catastrophic extinction with dramatic consequences on communities.
While over-exploitation is identified as the major threat to ocean biodiversity, the study finds that climate change is causing the ocean to change more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years. Rising temperatures and increasing acidity levels caused by carbon dioxide aggravate the negative impacts of overfishing and other major threats including habitat degradation and pollution.
Beyond the obvious harm to nature, threats to the ocean risk annual economic output of at least US$2.5 trillion and an overall asset base of at least $24 trillion, as found by a previous WWF study.
“The ocean’s overall value demands that we support it through a series of better choices and with real urgency. The ocean is not an inexhaustible source of food and a convenient dumping ground that is too vast to be affected by our activities. It connects all of us globally and is fundamental to maintaining all life on earth, providing food, clean air, a stable climate, rainfall and fresh water,” said Mr. Awer.
The Living Blue Planet Report details opportunities for governments, businesses and communities to secure a living ocean. Important measures to preserve ocean resources include preserving and rebuilding natural marine capital, wiser consumption and prioritizing sustainability.
Earlier this year, a separate WWF study found that every dollar invested to create marine protected areas could yield triple the benefits through factors like employment, coastal protection, and fisheries. That analysis showed that increased protection of critical habitats could result in net benefits of between US$490 billion and US$920 billion accruing over the period 2015-2050.
In September, governments formally agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with priorities including reducing poverty and increasing food security that have direct links to ocean health. It is essential that political and financial implementation of the sustainable development agenda addresses habitat destruction, overfishing, illegal fishing and marine pollution.
According to the report, decisions taken at the UN climate conference in Paris will directly impact the future of ocean health. Current international commitments fall far short of the action needed to stop levels of warming and acidification that are proving catastrophic to the ocean systems all people depend on.
WWF’s global ocean campaign, Sustain Our Seas, builds on decades of work by the organization and partners on marine conservation. WWF is working with governments, businesses and communities to encourage leaders to take urgent measures to support the ocean and protect the well-being and livelihoods of billions of people around the world.