It’s no secret that the planet’s oceans are currently in a sorry state. Pollution, climate change, overfishing, and other human-associated meddling are quickly changing our oceans faster than its inhabitants can cope, resulting in plummeting fish stocks, declining biodiversity, and bleached coral reefs.
But the story doesn’t have to end this way.
New research suggests that it's possible to rebuild the planet's marine life to full abundance by 2050. While the task is extremely ambitious and lined with colossal hurdles, the landmark study shows that a full recovery is possible if global action is taken.
"We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren's generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so. Failing to embrace this challenge – and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods – is not an option," Professor Carlos Duart, from the Red Sea Research Center at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, said in a statement.
Reported in the journal Nature, an international team of marine scientists from four different continents in 10 countries assessed how to recover the ocean’s biodiversity by looking at the impact of previously successful ocean conservation interventions.
First up, they note that many marine species have seen a remarkable recovery off the back of successful conservation efforts. Humpback whales and northern elephant seals, for example, have recovered to historical baselines following protection. Grey seal populations have increased by 1,410 percent in eastern Canada and Southern sea otters have grown from just a few dozen individuals to several thousand since 1911. Green turtles have also increased their nesting populations by 4 to 14 percent per year, according to some estimates.
As these trends and data show, recovery is possible even within a matter of decades. However, a lot more needs to be done.
Curbing further climate change is an absolute must. If marine life is to successfully rebuild, the researchers argue we must fulfill the most ambitious goals within the Paris Agreement. There are also global policy changes that could negate the problem. For one, robust regulation on hunting, poaching, and overfishing could dramatically increase fish stocks. They also call for greater regulation of industries that mine in the deep sea and push for a broad increase in protected marine areas.
Make no mistake, it’s a huge challenge ahead. But this promising research suggests that the ocean’s plight might not be as desperate as it may seem.
“We are at a point where we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean," said Duarte.