Ocean Wilderness Perishes Globally
Is the world wilderness going to disappear for good?
by Deborah Gillard
Researchers in Australia found that 13.2% of the world’s oceans could be classed as marine “wilderness”; that is to say, regions minimally impacted by human activities such as fishing, pollution and shipping. Most of those regions are located in international waters, far away from human populations. Unfortunately, a very small number of coastal areas met the criteria, including coral reefs. Those are very sad news because reefs are some of the most biodiverse habitats in the ocean as they shelter a great number of different plant and animal species. They are widely thought to be vital zones for marine life.
The Wild Conservation Society explained to BBC News: “Studies have shown that places free from intense levels of human activity have really high levels of biodiversity and high genetic diversity [but] we didn’t have an idea of where across the globe these intact places could still be found”. Kendall Jones and his scientific peers analysed the impact of 15 different human stressors on global ocean environments, in order to map these regions of wilderness. Areas that had the least human impact, which is the bottom 10%, were classed as wilderness.
The team found that the Arctic, Antarctic and Pacific Island nations are where the wilderness is the most centred as it’s where human activity is more limited. A sad observation is that marine protected areas (MPAs) appear to host just 4.9% of global marine wilderness.
Now the question is: What can be done to save our ocean wilderness? Mr Jones pointed out that fishing is one of the most significant direct impacts that humans can have on ocean ecosystems, but also many issues originate on land. Farming fertilisers, chemicals from poorly controlled industrial pollution and the rise of plastic pollution from rivers are all disrupting ocean life.
The UN is considering a legally binding addition to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would mandate conservation and sustainable use of international waters currently not protected. The first of four conferences to determine the details will take place in September 2018.