An uncertain future for our living blue planet

A new report on the health of the ocean finds that the marine vertebrate population has declined by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012.

WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report tracks 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile, and fish species through a marine living planet index. The evidence, analyzed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London, paints a troubling picture. In addition to the plummeting number of marine vertebrate species, populations of locally and commercially fished fish species have fallen by half, with some of the most important species experiencing even greater declines.

These findings coincide with the growing decline of marine habitats, where the deforestation rate of mangroves exceeds even the loss of forests by 3-5 times; coral reefsRock-like limestone structures built by corals along ocean coasts (fringing reefs) or on top of shallow, submerged banks or shelves (barrier reefs, atolls), most conspicuous in tropical and subtropical oceans. (IPCC) could be lost across the globe by 2050; and almost one-third of all seagrasses have been lost.

Global climate is one of the major drivers causing the ocean to change more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years. The oceans store huge quantities of energy and heat, but as the climate responds to increasing carbon emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC), the exchange intensifies. This may result in extreme weather eventsExtreme weather describes weather phenomena that are at the extremes of the historical distribution, especially severe or unseasonal weather. (UKCIP), changing ocean currents, rising sea temperatures, and increasing acidity levels—all of which aggravate the negative impacts of overfishing and other major threats such as habitat degradation and pollution.

Finding solutions for saving oceans
Though the challenge seems immense, it’s possible for governments, businesses, communities and consumers to secure a living ocean. To reverse the downward trend we need to preserve the oceans natural capitalNatural capital includes access to land, forests, water, grazing, fishing, wild products and biodiversity.; produce better; consume more wisely; and ensure sustainable financingOften banks lack knowledge about which projects are sensible and sustainable quality criteria. and governance.

Our ocean needs a strong global climate deal and work is already underway as President Obama and leaders of the Arctic nations recently pledged to work together to boost strong action on climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or .... But more needs to be done to prioritize ocean and coastal habitat healthThe health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events; increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases; increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher ....

Speak up for oceans! Together we can make a difference by halting the depletion of the ocean and restoring damaged ecosystemsA system of living organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to, ... for species and people.

Read the Living Planet Report 2014.

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