Marine Industrial Revolution: Human Impacts on the Ocean

In the past 500 years, nearly 500 animal extinctions have occurred on land while scientists have observed only 15 losses in marine species globally. Nevertheless, it is clear that the global ocean is facing a multitude of challenges, many of which threaten to further decrease biodiversity, according to Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses human impacts on marine systems at Metcalf Public Lecture Series.

Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses human impacts on marine systems at Metcalf Public Lecture Series.

McCauley, who has been examining marine species loss, as well as how human interactions with the marine environment are shifting in the modern world, remains confident that it’s not all bad news beneath the surface despite having recently published research in the journal Science that highlights human activity as having “profoundly affected marine wildlife, altering the functioning and provisioning of services in every ocean”

“We first began hunting wildlife directly,” McCauley said during his presentation at the 2015 Metcalf Institute Public Lecture Series. “We’ve now switched over to hunting their homes, hunting habitats.”

Humans today are utilizing the oceans in ways that had never been imagined just 30 years ago.  Today the ocean holds potential for vast mineral value and energy production. McCauley believes we are on the verge of a “marine industrial revolution,” a process similar to the industrial transformation that took place on land in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Increased activity at sea means adverse reactions that include increases in ‘ocean road-kill,’ loss of critical habitats, such as coral reefs and mangroves, as well as changing the size structure of ocean life.

Although scientists’ lack of knowledge on ocean life remains quite broad, McCauley believes that there is still time for humans to make well-positioned choices on how to treat the marine environment. While he called for the expansion of marine protected areas and ocean parks around the world, McCauley was quick to note the difficulties that exist in the enforcement of such conservation actions.

Marine debris, or litter, is a growing global concern regarding the health of our oceans.

Marine debris, or litter, is a growing global concern regarding the health of our oceans.

“Sixty-seven percent of the ocean is a lawless space,” said McCauley. “And I can assure that humans will act lawlessly in a lawless space.”

Still, he adds, “Despite that hardship it faces, the ocean still remains a much wilder place than any environment on land.”

 

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Evan Ridley | Sea Grant Science Communications Intern and Marine Affairs Graduate student at the University of Rhode Island