Ocean & Fisheries Health
The ocean covers 71% of the planet, comprising 97% of all of the water on earth and providing up to 80% of the oxygen we breath. The ocean is also a primary driver of the global economy and integral to the world’s food security. In addition to being home to the vast majority of all life on earth, the ocean-related industry maintains over 780 million jobs, and, more than 1.5 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein.
Ocean health is in crisis. Fish are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Mankind has overfished key seafood stocks around the world with global catches peaking in 1996. 87% of the world’s fisheries are considered overfished or completely collapsed, key habitat is disappearing due to destructive fishing practices, and 40% of the world’s seafood is considered “bycatch,” meaning it is discarded before use. Populations of top predators have plummeted, and more than 830 marine species are listed as critically endangered.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Science has shown that the most effective means of restoring fish stocks, and ocean health more broadly, is through the enforcement of no-take marine reserves or Marine Protected Areas (MPA), enhancing sustainable fishing policy and practice, and employing sound ocean management. While MPAs have proven to produce up to 166% more, and bigger, fish, currently less than 1% of the ocean is covered by no-take protection, and less than 3% under some kind of management
Whether through community based fisheries management being addressed by a partnership such as Fish Forever, pragmatic ocean zoning as promoted by the Waitt Institute, or massive MPAs such as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, it is understood that catches on the boundaries of marine reserves can increase between 50-90%, and biodiversity can increase by over 20%.
Hope is Not Lost
If individuals, corporations, and governments do not take immediate and bold action to protect the ocean and adopt sustainable fisheries policies and practices, we will soon permanently lose this precious natural resource and source of food and livelihood for so many. If we do not protect the ocean today, the ocean’s multitude of ecosystems will begin to die out, the ocean economy will spiral, livelihoods and food security will diminish, and human conflict will increase.
Hope is not lost. Through the expansion and enforcement of MPAs, sound management practices, improving transparency and sustainability in the seafood industry, and through individual and collective action, we can work together to restore our ocean to full productivity. Learn more about how you can help personally from The National Geographic Society and The Smithsonian Institution.