Seattle WA (December 18, 2013) — In honor of the start of another year of trying to motivate humankind to work together to save our oceans, Marine Conservation Institute today announced its list of “14 Things Humans Can Do to Make the Oceans More Abundant in 2014.” The world’s oceans are vital to human survival, yet they face growing challenges. The list from Marine Conservation Institute contains specific ocean issues, and geographic areas representative of those issues, that need continued attention in 2014 and beyond.
1. Establish marine protected areas (Ross Sea, Antarctica). The creation of marine protected areas is one of the best tools available for ocean protection. The waters around Antarctica are still relatively untouched by human activity and home to almost 10,000 unique species. Although talks surrounding the creation of a protected zone in the Ross Sea broke down this year, international partners have vowed to return to the table in 2014 and continue working to protect this ocean area.
2. Reduce introductions of alien species (Arctic Ocean). As the planet warms, and sea ice melts, ships are now able to transit this once impenetrable region, bringing unwelcome visitors along with them. The Arctic Ocean has long been protected against invasive species by its ice cover and cold temperatures, but new shipping lanes are carrying new creatures to waters around the North Pole. Scientists are studying these changes, and renewed commitments to curb the transport and introduction of alien species are required to ensure that the Arctic Ocean isn’t overrun as shipping expands in this fragile region.
3. Reduce Bluefin tuna catch (Atlantic Ocean). The magnificent Bluefin tuna has been pushed to near extinction by decades of continual overfishing, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna has been slow to listen to the world’s best scientists. This year, the Commission maintained current catch levels, but restrictions are necessary to recover Bluefin populations to former levels and the international community needs to maintain a watchful eye to ensure a future for this species.
4. Stop destructive bottom trawling (Aleutian Islands, Alaska). One of the most damaging forms of fishing, deep sea trawling has destroyed millions of acres of our undersea environment worldwide. Conserving these critical habitats is important for a myriad of commercially important fishes and marine biodiversity. In the Aleutian Islands, trawling threatens globally significant deep-sea coral and sponge communities, and conservation organizations continue science and advocacy efforts to stop this harmful practice.
5. Reduce ship strikes to blue whales (San Francisco Bay Area, California). For a whale, trying to cross a busy shipping area is a lot like trying to run across an active highway. With constant traffic and no signal lights, whales are in danger of being hit and killed. Reducing collisions between ships and whales, especially in the case of the endangered blue whale, is critical to ensure species survival. New technology, such as tracking applications, have been developed, and will play a bigger role in helping managers identify whale “hot-spots” in 2014.
6. Restrict the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer (Gulf of Mexico). Considered vital for large scale crop production, nitrogen-based fertilizers are often used excessively on modern farms. Especially rampant in the Midwest, these fertilizers have run into the Mississippi River and made their way to the Gulf of Mexico, creating large “dead zones” where marine life struggles to survive.
7. Reduce plastic debris (North Pacific Gyre). Pictures of birds and sea life with stomachs full of plastic have become commonplace as plastics and other trash continue to collect in the world’s oceans. In every cubic meter of water in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s estimated that six pounds of plastic are floating around. A concerted effort is necessary to reduce plastic use, so the tide can be turned on this issue.
8. Use new technology to protect the oceans (Pacific Remote Islands). Some of the most pristine areas in the oceans are tricky to get to, such as the U.S.’s own Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments. These Monuments represent some of the most unspoiled coral reef ecosystems and ocean habitats in the world, but their bounty also draws illegal fishing operations. Recent advances in high frequency radar, acoustics, and drone technology mean that enforcement personnel can keep a watchful eye, even when they can’t be there in person.
9. Reduce CO2 emissions (Arctic Sea Ice). Whether large or small, life in the Arctic depends on ice. Polar bears hunt on the surface of the ice while tiny krill graze on the underside of the ice. Yet increasing carbon dioxide emissions leading to global warming threaten to melt away the ice, and leave Arctic creatures without a home. International efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions will continue, and many conservation groups expect more action to be taken in 2014.
10. Ban shark finning (United States and worldwide). The practice of cutting off a shark’s fins, and then throwing the shark back in the water to slowly die, is one of the most wasteful and tragic fishing practices. Fortunately, several countries and numerous states in the U.S. have passed laws banning the importation or sale of shark fins. There is a strong belief that more will follow their lead in 2014. However, ensuring that bans are enforced will be a key step in protecting shark populations.
11. Reduce ocean noise (New England coast). Although the oceans are often imagined to be a silent place, to marine mammals and fish it is a rich and textured world of sound. In today’s oceans, marine life are constantly bombarded by noise from traveling ships, oil and gas exploration, sonar, and other human activities. New research has shown that all this sound creates chronic stress, such as in the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale population. Better monitoring of whale locations using acoustic surveying can help inform regulations about who can make noise and how it can be made, and researchers in New England are working on just that.
12. Prohibit toxic fracking cocktails (Santa Barbara Channel, California). New offshore fracking technology (in which rocks are fractured with a pressurized liquid in order to extract petroleum or gas) is making its way to the oceans for the first time. Not only do these activities directly impact seabed communities, they risk the release of toxic chemical cocktails into the surrounding waters. Conservation groups are looking to stop the use of these toxic compounds and limit wastewater disposal into the ocean in 2014.
13. Restore oyster reefs (Chesapeake Bay). In many places the ocean still has the capacity to recover if we’re willing to give it a helping hand. In the Chesapeake Bay, agricultural and industrial pollution have caused serious problems with water quality – a problem that can be addressed by a tame looking native creature. Oysters can naturally filter out water pollution, restoring ecosystem health in a natural, cost-effective way, and there’s increased interest in conserving the Bay.
14. Eliminate pirate fishing (African coastlines). As fish populations plummet and prices continue to rise, more fishermen are engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Especially prevalent along the Africa coastline, these vessels take more than their fair share of the ocean’s resources, and leave little behind for local communities (and the ocean itself). New efforts aimed at better law enforcement, ship tracking, and more significant punishments for offenders will help improve this situation.
“Marine Conservation Institute will be keeping a watchful eye on each of these issues in 2014 as we continue to work to strongly safeguard marine ecosystems worldwide,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, president of Marine Conservation Institute. “If we all work together to protect our oceans, we will be able to revitalize and recover marine populations for us and future generations.”
About Marine Conservation Institute
Marine Conservation Institute is a team of highly-experienced marine scientists and environmental-policy advocates dedicated to saving ocean life for us and future generations. The organization’s goal is to help the world create an urgently-needed worldwide system of strongly protected areas—the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES)—a strategic, cost-effective way to ensure the future diversity and abundance of marine life. Founded in 1996, Marine Conservation Institute is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization with offices in Seattle, near San Francisco and in Washington DC.