Marine biologists have mapped out how to protect more than a third of the world’s oceans by 2030, a target that scientists say is crucial in order to safeguard wildlife and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
One of the largest studies of its kind, a new report A Blueprint For Ocean Protection explores various scenarios on how to fully protect 30 and 50 percent of global oceans, both widely discussed ambitions for conservation targets.
The report’s publication on Thursday comes as negotiations towards a landmark Global Ocean Treaty are under way at the United Nations.
Academics at the University of York, University of Oxford and Greenpeace broke down the global oceans – which cover almost half the planet – into 25,000 squares of 100 x 100 kilometres, during a year-long collaboration.
They then mapped the distribution of 458 conservation features, including wildlife, habitat and key oceanographic features and generated hundreds of scenarios for a planet-wide network of ocean sanctuaries, free from human activity.
“This report shows how protected areas could be rolled out across international waters to create a net of protection that will help save species from extinction and help them survive in our fast-changing world,” Professor Callum Roberts, a marine biologist at the University of York, said.
Roberts added that government action is urgently needed to address threats to marine wildlife.
“The speed at which the high seas have been depleted of some of their most spectacular and iconic wildlife has taken the world by surprise,” he said. “Extraordinary losses of seabirds, turtles, sharks and marine mammals reveal a broken governance system that governments at the United Nations must fix”.
Political will needed ‘before it’s too late’
Scientists and conservationists hope the UN negotiations could pave the way for the protection of oceans outside of national borders – some 230m square kilometres.
“The negotiations taking place at the UN are crucial because, if they get it right, governments around the world could secure a Global Oceans Treaty by 2020, which has the teeth to realise a network of ocean sanctuaries, off-limits from harmful human activities.
“This would give wildlife and habitats space not only to recover, but to flourish. Our oceans are in crisis, but all we need is the political will to protect them before it’s too late,” Dr Sandra Schoettner from Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign said.
Five things we can do to combat climate change
Last week, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reaffirmed that the last four years had been the hottest on record.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres described the WMO’s findings as “another strong wake-up call” for governments, cities and businesses to take action on climate change.
“It proves what we have been saying; that climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it,” Gutterres said at UN headquarters in New York.
The world’s oceans are under threat from a myriad of hazards, including pollution, overfishing and climate change, which contributes to rising sea levels and extreme weather.
An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic waste is entering the oceans annually, threatening the habitat of the some 700,000 marine species.