Researchers lay out roadmap for the planet's marine life to recover by 2050

written by Oceanographic Staff

A recently published international study has laid out the essential roadmap of actions required for the planet’s marine life to recover to full abundance by 2050.

Led by Professors Carlos Duarte and Susana Agusti of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), the major review reports that an ‘ocean renaissance’ is possible, with the right measures put in place.

“We are at a point where we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean,” said Carlos Duarte, KAUST professor of marine science and the Tarek Ahmed Juffali research chair in Red Sea ecology. “Our study documents recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. It provides specific, evidence-based recommendations to scale proven solutions globally.”

The researchers reported that the evidence and case studies examined highlight that the abundance of marine life can be restored, enabling a more sustainable, blue economy. An emerging shift from steep losses of life throughout the 20th century to a slowing down of losses – and in some instances even recovery – over the first two decades of the 21st century. Success stories demonstrating the resilience of marine life, from humpback whales and blue whale population recovery to the bounce back of elephant seals in the USA and green turtles in Japan have been carefully examined.

The review concludes that the recovery rate of marine life can be accelerated to achieve substantial recovery within two to three decades for most components of marine ecosystems – providing that climate change is tackled and efficient interventions are deployed on a grand scale.

“We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren’s generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so, added Duarte. “Failing to embrace this challenge – and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods – is not an option.”

By studying the impact of previously successful ocean conservation interventions and recovery trends, the researchers identified nine components integral to rebuilding marine life, which included salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep sea.

By stacking a combination of six complementary interventions called “recovery wedges,” the report identifies specific actions within the broad themes of protecting species, harvesting wisely, protecting spaces, restoring habitats, reducing pollution and the mitigation of climate change. Actions recommended include benefits, possible roadblocks, opportunities and remedial actions, giving a tangible roadmap to deliver a healthy ocean that would provide huge benefits for both the human population and the planet itself.

Of course, success depends entirely on a committed, resilient global alliance of governments and societies dedicated to achieving this goal. It will also require a significant financial commitment. However, the review states that the social, ecological and economic gains from rebuilding marine life will be far-reaching.

Additionally, the mitigation of climate change by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is a key element to this plan of action. Impacts from realised and unavoidable climate change already limit the scope for rebuilding tropical corals to a partial – rather than substantial – recovery. The goal of rebuilding the abundance of marine life can only succeed if the most ambitious goals within the Paris Agreement are reached.

Susana Agusti, KAUST professor of marine science and study co-author, concluded: “Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future.”

The project brings together the world’s leading marine scientists working across four continents, in 10 countries and from 16 universities, including KAUST, Aarhus University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Boston University, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Sorbonne Universite, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, Dalhousie University and the University of York.

To read the full paper, “Rebuilding marine life”, click here.

Photo by Hannes Klostermann, courtesy of the Coral Reef Image Bank.

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