Now nearly everyone can see, on a home screen, some of the wonders
scientists are discovering in the oceans as they descend to unprecedented
depths in submersibles, map the seafloor, and track the migrations of
whales, sharks, and sea turtles via satellite. We watch, and gradually the
ocean with its living creatures enters our personal world.
At the same time we are learning that the oceans’ intricate web of life is
being torn apart. Scientists have long been warning that unless humans stop
overfishing and other destructive activities, much of the planet’s
once-abundant marine life will be lost.
"Fisheries are the major catastrophe that has befallen the animals in the
ocean," says Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Center at the
University of British Columbia and board member of Oceana, an organization
devoted to ocean conservation. His words echo from a video posted on
Oceana’s website. "It’s almost as if we use our military to fight the
animals of the ocean--and we are winning the war. We are gradually
exterminating them." Hundreds of scientists around the world agree that
overfishing is one of the greatest threats to the ocean, along with
pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change.
In response, a worldwide ocean conservation movement has surfaced and is
gathering strength. It involves governments, international agencies and
conservation groups, aquariums and universities, small island communities,
and countless individuals. Some of the most promising recent marine
conservation successes were sparked by individuals and small groups.
In the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of marine protected areas (MPAs) have been
established in the past few decades, mostly on the western side. An MPA is a
geographically defined marine area within which fishing and other human
activities are banned or limited to varying degrees.
Because the best habitat areas are frequently the most productive fishing
grounds, MPAs are often controversial. Research and experience so far,
however, support the view that they can help depleted fisheries to recover,
as the fish populations they protect "spill over" to adjacent areas. The
reserves also offer a kind of insurance against the impacts of global
warming and ocean acidification, especially for coral and other calcifying
organisms (see Ocean Acidification). "Research suggests that
ecosystems that are more biodiverse may be more resilient," points out Cheri
Recchia, director of the Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Enterprise of the
California Ocean Science Trust.
In the United States, California leads the way as it works to complete the
first network of ecosystem-based marine reserves in state waters, some of
which will be no-take areas where marine life is completely protected. But
overall, this country lags behind many others. Australia has the world’s
largest network of no-take reserves, covering more than 38,610 square miles.
In 2004, the government rezoned the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, placing
more than 20 percent of each of 70 bioregions within the network. In 1977,
New Zealand became one of the first nations to establish a no-take reserve,
and now has a network of 31.