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2021 in review: Turning the tide for our world’s oceans

© Shawn Heinrichs

Nature saw ups and downs in 2021, and Conservation News was there for it all. This month, we are revisiting some of the most significant stories of the past year. 

It’s been another year of unsettling headlines about our planet’s oceans. But even as the mounting threat of climate change brings marine ecosystems to their brink, governments and conservationists helped turn the tide. 

From deep-sea discoveries to new ways of protecting carbon-rich coastal ecosystems, here are some of our top read articles of the year. 

Manta rays may be one of the world’s most vulnerable marine species, but in the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia, they are positively thriving. In an interview with Conservation News, Mark Erdmann, a Conservation International marine biologist, explains how aerial drones and a small contingent of citizen scientists helped experts document the successes of a struggling species. 

Read more here

Women are the unseen backbone of seafood supply chains, managing local fish farms, working in seafood processing plants, marketing products and even collecting snails or crabs. But new findings by Conservation International researchers uncovered systemic discrimination and abuse for women within these professions. We spoke to the paper’s lead author about the hardships these women endure in the fishing industry — and the steps needed to address them. 

Mangroves are climate superstars. In a single square mile, their dense tangle of roots can stash away as much climate-warming carbon as the annual emissions of 90,000 cars. However, their carbon-storing abilities have largely been ignored in the global carbon market — until now. We spoke with Conservation International scientist Jennifer Howard who helped develop a blue carbon finance project, which for the first time takes into account not only the carbon that mangrove trees store in their trunks and leaves, but also the carbon they sequester in their soils. 

Read more here

A team of intrepid ocean experts embarked on a voyage to chart the hidden depths of the deep sea mountain chains known as the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges. Beneath the waves, they uncovered a vibrant and astonishing abundance of deep-dwelling marine life that exists nowhere else on the entire planet. We interviewed Conservation International marine scientist Daniel Wagner about his journey through this “vortex of life” and the significant threats facing this remarkable and remote ecosystem. 

Read more here.

As climate change accelerates, recent research shows that tuna are following warming waters and moving into the open ocean. This exodus would greatly impact Pacific Island nations and territories that rely on tuna for their economies, livelihoods and food security. Conservation International scientist Johann Bell, who led the study, warns that shifting tuna migrations could cost some developing island states up to 17 percent of their annual government revenue: “We are sounding the alarm on this potential economic disaster while there is still time to avoid it."

Read more here.


Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: Manta rays in West Papua, Indonesia (© Shawn Heinrichs)