Last updated October 25, 2018 at 1:38 pm
Just 13% of the world’s oceans are classified as untouched marine wilderness.
Scientists have completed the first systemic analysis of marine wilderness around the world. They found that just 13.2% (53 million km2) of the world’s oceans are classed as marine wilderness.
Previously land wilderness has been much easier to assess, however, it seems ironic that we knew little about the oceans which cover more than 70% of our planet’s surface.
Marine wilderness here is seen as “biologically and ecologically intact seascapes that are mostly free of human disturbance,” as the authors explain in their research findings.
Kendall Jones, from The University of Queensland, and their research team sought to show the impact of human influence on marine wilderness to raise awareness to protect what remains.
What little remains
To map the global extent of marine wilderness they painstakingly analysed data on the intensity and cumulative impact of 19 different human stressors to marine environments globally in 2013. They included land-based stressors (e.g. nutrient runoff from fertilisers and sediment), ocean-based stressors (e.g. fishing and commercial shipping), and climate change.
With on a small fraction of the world’s wilderness still classified as wilderness, they found that what remains is fragmented. The areas were mostly spread around the Arctic, Antarctica, or around remote Pacific Island nations.
Only 4.9% of marine wilderness is currently within marine protected areas, which raises concerns about making sure that global conservation strategies and policies are incorporating marine areas.
Wilderness havens for biodiversity
Wilderness areas are crucial for marine biodiversity. High biodiversity areas like coral reefs have very little wilderness.
On average, global wilderness areas have 31% higher species richness, 40% higher range rarity, and 24% higher proportional range rarity than non-wilderness areas, though this varies substantially across marine ecoregions.
Jones said, “Pristine wilderness areas hold massive levels of biodiversity and endemic species and are some of the last places of Earth where big populations of apex predators are still found,”
“This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before.
“Thanks to a warming climate, even some places that were once safe due to year-round ice cover can now be fished.”
A sobering line that the authors write is, “Human pressures across the ocean are increasing rapidly, and nowhere in the sea is entirely free of human impacts.”
They call for global collaboration and the urgent need for action to protect what remains of marine wilderness.
The research is published in Current Biology.