- Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the world's most widely known and respected marine biologists, announced an agenda today to help place at least 12 percent of the world's ocean into protection within the next decade. Less than one percent of the ocean currently enjoys some form of protection, compared with approximately 12 percent of land.
Dr. Earle called for greater protection in areas of both high biodiversity and great threat, including nesting areas and migration routes. She also emphasized the need to protect marine wilderness areas, which provide essential services to the health of the planet.
The agenda to improve ocean health was initially developed at the Defying Ocean's End conference held in Los Cabos, Mexico in June, 2003, and has since been refined to include cost estimates calculated by a team of business leaders and economists.
"Approximately 12 percent of the land surface of Earth is now under some form of protection, but less than one percent of the world's ocean is protected," said Earle, Executive Director of Conservation International's Marine Programs Division. "What took 100 years to protect on land has to be done in the next 10 years in the ocean - or we risk further massive disturbances to marine life and the health of the oceans, which inevitably means we humans will also be in grave trouble."
The ocean and the marine life it harbors are under tremendous threat. A study released earlier this year in the journal Nature
found that 90 percent of large, predatory fish stocks - including tuna, swordfish, marlin, halibut and cod - have been eliminated by over-fishing and destructive fishing practices. Fully 75 percent of all commercial fish populations are fished to capacity, are approaching collapse or have already collapsed.
The Defying Ocean's End agenda calls for a major increase in protection for Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Large Marine Ecosystems require a conservation strategy that views the ocean as a living system. Instead of simply designing a species-specific or geography-based strategy, LMEs protect the integrity of natural systems, such as the food web, and maintains the health of the entire system based on physical and biological features. They allow for varying levels of protection, ranging from "no-take" zones to multiple-use areas that could include such uses as sustainable fishing.
The agenda also calls for the creation of more than 400 Marine Protected Areas over the next 10 years.
The cost to establish programs to protect more than 20 LMEs is estimated to be more than $9.3 billion over the next 10 years. The cost to establish 400 MPAs worldwide would increase this amount by at least an additional $5.4 billion over the next 10 years. In total, these expenses would protect approximately five percent of the ocean, meaning even more funds would be required to secure the 10 percent target. These estimates do not include the funds to manage these areas in perpetuity, the economic development needs of local people, or the long-term monitoring and enforcement efforts required for effective protection.
"Although protecting 10 percent of the world's ocean over the next decade is an ambitious but achievable target, it is still just the beginning of the process," said Dr. Earle, co-convener of the Defying Ocean's End conference. "In truth, most marine biologists agree that a minimum of 20 to 30 percent of the ocean needs full protection, and possibly a lot more."
Fully 60 percent of the world's ocean falls in international waters, outside of any country's jurisdiction. This part of the ocean is over-exploited by threats including over-fishing and unregulated dumping. The Defying Ocean's End agenda calls for a World Ocean Public Trust, which would operate under a structure like the United Nations and would provide international planning and enforcement of global stewardship.
Seamounts - underwater mountains and hills that rise at least 1,000 meters above the ocean floor - emerged as areas in need of urgent conservation action. In the Pacific Ocean alone, more than 30,000 seamounts are believed to exist. Although only 220 seamounts have been sampled worldwide, they host large percentages of endemics - species found nowhere else in the world. Taking advantage of this rich marine life and a lack of regulation, fishing trawlers are removing species from the ocean quicker than science can discover them.
The ocean is home to most life on Earth. It holds 97 percent of Earth's water, drives climate and weather, shapes the chemistry of the planet, generates more than 70 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, absorbs carbon dioxide and replenishes our fresh water through clouds. The ocean accounts for more than 99.5 percent of Earth's life-supporting space.
Dr. Sylvia Earle is the Executive Director of Conservation International's Marine Programs Division. Earle is also an Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society and is the former Chief Scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Defying Ocean's End Conference
was convened to help reverse the decline in health of the world's ocean. Leaders from Conservation International, Environmental Defense, International Seakeepers Society, IUCN-World Conservation Union, Natural Resource Defense Council, Ocean Futures Society, Seaweb, The Nature Conservancy, The Ocean Conservancy, Wildaid, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund attended among others, as did representatives from government, industry and academia. In total, more than 150 marine experts from 20 countries participated. The conference was convened by Sylvia Earle and Gordon Moore and was supported by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.