There is nothing to suggest that nature in the ocean is less worthy or less in need of protection than nature on land but there are today almost no designated areas in the ocean, where nature is allowed to develop without direct human interference.
By Katherine Richardson, Professor in Biological Oceanography, University of Copenhagen.
Human activities are already greatly changing ocean habitats, organisms, and function. It goes without saying that a practice as damaging to nature as bottom trawling would never be accepted on such a large scale on land as it is in the ocean if we were able to see its effects but our activities also impact ocean biology in other more subtle ways. The increase in atmospheric CO2 is, for example, causing the surface of the ocean to acidify – so much so that studies suggest that by around 2065, unless the rate of CO2 increase slows, there will be no regions in the world’s oceans that are chemically able to support the production of coral skeletons.
The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. It gives us rain and weather and captures CO2 from the atmosphere. Without it, the land would be uninhabitable for our species so we owe it our very existence. Our species will soon number 9 billion. We need ocean resources for our survival but – also for our own sake - exploitation of the ocean must respect the organisms that live there. A prerequisite for sustainable ocean exploitation is, therefore, a commitment to ocean preservation.
Member parties at the UN Convention on Biodiversity Conference in 2010 agreed on a goal of placing 10% of the global ocean area under some form of conservation protection by 2020.This is an extremely ambitious goal and it comes at a time when a number of potential new users of the ocean are also making themselves known. Thus, humankind is increasingly looking to the ocean as a potential site for harvesting both renewable energies (placement of offshore wind turbines, wave and tidal energy) and biomass for energy and other purposes.
In addition, as the human demand for natural resources approaches the global supply on land, there is increased focus on harvesting these resources from under the sea floor and, finally, the ocean is often identified as a site for various geo-engineering proposals designed to offset the climate effects generated by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities.
With all of these new economic interests arriving on the scene, you may ask if it is realistic also to create nature reserves in the ocean. Not only is it realistic - it is absolutely necessary!