Marine Defaunation: Animal Loss in the Global Ocean

(bubbling) (elk bellowing) Only several hundred years ago California was a wild frontier land of grizzlies and elk. That’s just not the case anymore. The oceans are arguably some of our last pieces of true wilderness on the planet. We must learn from our management and our mismanagement of terrestrial ecosystem in order to avoid an equally devastating fate for the oceans. People have been harvesting marine wildlife in the oceans for tens of thousands of years. But things have changed a lot, there are now 7,000,000,000 of us on the planet, and our tackle box has evolved considerably. Many indications suggest that we’re now looking at the beginnings of an industrial revolution in the oceans. We’re using the ocean in different ways. There is aquaculture going on in places now, in the open ocean, that never existed before. We’re using it for energy production, there’s urbanization of the ocean. In addition to habitat destruction and overharvest, climate change is one of the major threats to ocean ecosystems all over the world. Some of this marine development is necessary in an overcrowded world, but we actually have the chance in the oceans to proactively guide the hand of this development, more intelligently than we did on land. One of the most stunning things we did on land was to protect big areas, like Yellowstone. And that’s been an approach that’s been taken in the ocean as well. Protecting parts of the seas, with all the organisms that live inside, as a way of preserving their biodiversity, but also as a way of preserving their ecological function. In all of this, our best partner is the productivity of the ocean. The ability of the ocean to respond, to repopulate itself, and to recover ecosystems that we have damaged. One of the ways to think about this is that, this is the century of choice for the oceans. We can choose to do everything we can to protect it, or we can leave things go as they are, and in the next century, we don’t know what the ocean’s going to look like. But it won’t be like this, and it won’t be supporting us and other human communities the way we want it to. The state of the world’s marine wildlife is in some ways like this old, abused ship. By and large, the ships still float. We’re still limping along forward. The issue is, if we don’t actually invest some energy in trying to put in the repairs that are needed now, these small holes are going to become big holes, and our ship is going to start going down really rapidly. We’re still at the helm of this ship. Maybe we’re still bailing it, but what we do now will determine the future of this ship, and all the wildlife in all the oceans for decades and centuries to come. (somber music)

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