The Next Mass Extinction Could Be In Our Oceans

Nearly half of all life under the sea has disappeared in the past 50 years.

A new study by the World Wildlife Fund and researchers at the Zoological Society of London found that global populations of marine species have declined by 49% since 1970 due to pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and climate change.

Researchers were able to approximate this drastic decline using data that was collected from 2,337 individual sources, including population estimates from scientific studies and databases.

The study also found that some fish species people rely on for food – like tuna, bonito and mackerel – has declined by as much as 74%. Shark finning and industrial fishing have wiped out shark and ray populations to the point where one in four species are now threatened by extinction. And the number of sea cucumbers, a luxury food in Asia, have dropped by 98% in the Galápagos and by 94% in the Egyptian Red Sea.

Photo by USFWS - Pacific Region / CC BY 2.0
Photo by USFWS – Pacific Region / CC BY 2.0

Furthermore, industrial pollution and plastic contamination have destroyed marine habitats and caused the death of endangered sea turtles and other wildlife. Fossil fuels that accelerate the acidifcation of the oceans has led to the degradation of coral reefs, which support 25% of marine species on top of 400 million people. The world’s coral reefs will disappear if ocean temperatures continue rising at the current rate.

The report’s findings include a lot of bad news, but there is a silver lining. The world’s leaders and nations can use this information to turn things around by halting illegal fishing, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting critical marine habitats like the remaining coral reefs. Director general of WWF International Marco Lambertini said in a statement:

“The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively. If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems.”

Featured image by LASZLO ILYES / CC BY 2.0

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