Just 13% of the world’s oceans have not been severely impacted by humans, with these areas mostly located at the poles and around remote Pacific island nations.
That is according to a new study published in Current Biology and quoted by Australia’s Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which shows that industrial fishing, shipping and pollution has left ‘pristine’ marine areas increasingly rare.
Researchers also found that most remaining areas devoid of intense human impacts are unprotected, and are likely to disappear within 50 years without multilateral environmental agreements.
“Marine areas that can be considered ‘pristine’ are becoming increasingly rare, as fishing and shipping fleets expand their reach, and sediment runoff smothers many coastal areas” said study lead author, Kendall Jones. “Improvements in shipping technology mean that even the most remote wilderness areas may come under threat in the future, including once ice-covered places that are now accessible because of climate change.”
The study involved assessing 19 key indicators that impact oceans, including commercial shipping, sediment runoff and several types of fishing, to identify Earth’s remaining marine wilderness.
It was found that very little remains in coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, because human activities are often concentrated near land.
WCS director, professor James Watson, said: “Marine wilderness areas are home to unparalleled levels of life – holding massive abundances of species and high genetic diversity, giving them resilience to threats like climate change. These areas are declining catastrophically.”
The researchers said the findings highlight an immediate need for new conservation polices that recognise and protect the unique values of marine wilderness, and praised the UN for taking the initiative.
“Late last year the UN began developing a legally binding high seas conservation treaty – essentially a Paris Agreement for the ocean,” Jones said. “This agreement would have the power to protection large areas of the high seas, and might be our best shot at saving some of Earth’s last remaining marine wilderness.”