Climate Action

New report argues oceans can be restored by 2050

Scientists have found that the world's oceans are surprisingly resilient, despite the endless waste and pollution humanity has invoked on them.

  • 06 April 2020
  • Camilla Watkiss

Scientists have found that the world's oceans are surprisingly resilient, despite the endless waste and pollution humanity has invoked on them. 

According to a major new scientific review, oceans can be restored to former glory within the next 30 years, but will not do so on their own. Climate change and the way we respond to it will have a significant impact on our oceans and their ability to recover. A major ramp up in efforts is needed.

The oceans have been exploited by humans for centuries, through rampant overfishing, oil spills and pollution poisoning the seas and its inhabitants and the influence of climate change bleaching corals and increasing the oceans acidity.

The review, published in the journal Nature, is focused on the Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the United Nations aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. 

Scientists report that we now have the knowledge to be able to save and restore the oceans wildlife and support the major services that the world’s population rely on, including food, coastal protection and climate stability. The measures needed to achieve this would cost billions of dollars a year. However, the scientists argue that this would bring benefits 10 times as high.

“We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so [..] Failing to embrace this challenge, and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support good livelihoods is not an option.” Said the review’s leading scientist, Prof Carlos Duarte, of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

The review recognises the scale of the problems but also highlights the extraordinary resilience of our oceans. Since the ban on commercial whaling Humpback whale numbers have increased. The proportion of marine species assessed as threatened with global extinction by the IUCN has dropped from 18% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2019.

“Overfishing and climate change are tightening their grip, but there is hope in the science of restoration. “One of the overarching messages of the review is, if you stop killing sea life and protect it, then it does come back. We can turn the oceans around and we know it makes sense economically, for human wellbeing and, of course, for the environment.” Prof Callum Roberts, at the University of York, one of the review’s international team.

The review identifies nine key components that are essential to rebuilding the oceans: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep ocean. They recommend a range of actions including protecting species, harvesting wisely and restoring habitats.

"We know what we ought to do to rebuild marine life, and we have evidence that this goal can be achieved within three decades. Indeed, this requires that we accelerate our efforts, and spread them to areas where efforts are currently modest," said Professor Carlos Duarte.

The authors acknowledge that while governments have other serious issues on their minds right now they do believe that rescuing the oceans is a very important and achievable goal.

The review concludes, “If major pressures—including climate change—are mitigated. Rebuilding marine life represents a doable Grand Challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future.”

Read the full review here