Only 13 percent of the world’s ocean is still considered wilderness with very few disturbances from human interaction, according to a new study.
The research was conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland, and the results show just how little of our oceans are untouched or unaffected by overfishing, tourism, shipping, climate change, and population increases.
On land, wilderness is monitored, declines recorded, and protective measures put in place to ensure some regions of the Earth are preserved, but for the ocean, it’s a different story.
The results were published in the journal Current Biology, and for the first time, the world’s marine wildernesses have been mapped out and analyzed.
“We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains,” said Kendall Jones, the lead author of the paper. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70 percent of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.”
The researchers used comprehensive global data on 19 known human stressors that affect marine ecosystems including agricultural runoff, shipping, and fishing.
These stressors and their cumulative impact on the world’s ocean was then used to map out marine wildernesses where impact from the 19 stressors was lowest.
There are marine wildernesses in several regions across the globe but they can be found primarily in the Arctic, and the Antarctic as well as around remote Pacific Island Nations. Very few coastal marine wildernesses remain, according to the study’s findings.
Of the marine wildernesses that do still exist on Earth, less than five percent are under any protections which means that what little remains could soon be overtaken by human activities.
“This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before,” said Jones. “Thanks to a warming climate, even some places that were once safe due to year-round ice cover can now be fished.”
Marine wilderness are crucial hotspots for biodiversity and can give researchers a unique look at thriving ocean ecosystems, the likes of which can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.
“Pristine wilderness areas hold massive levels of biodiversity and endemic species and are some of the last places of Earth where big populations of apex predators are still found,” said Jones.
Given how little of the ocean is considered marine wilderness and the minimal protective measures in place for those areas, the researchers urge policymakers to work together to create an international environmental agreement that recognizes marine wildernesses and orders conservation targets.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer