News: AAAS 2008 Annual Meeting News Blog
Science Study Maps Human Impacts on Oceans
A new atlas of the world's oceans reveals that human activities have strongly impacted approximately 40 percent of the area and have left only about four percent relatively pristine. The most highly affected regions include the eastern Caribbean, the North Sea, and Japanese waters, and the least affected ones are around the poles, according to the new results.
The high-resolution, global map, which is the first of its kind, was released today at the AAAS Annual Meeting, and it will appear in the 15 February issue of the journal Science. The presenters are part of a special three-day seminar on "Managing Threats to Marine Ecosystems" at the meeting.
The map reflects 17 different types of human impact on marine ecosystems, including climate change, fishing and land-based pollution, and is expected to be a useful tool for developing strategies for conserving the ocean's resources.
"Whether one is interested in protecting ocean wilderness, assessing which human activities have the greatest impact, or prioritizing which ecosystem types need management intervention, our results provide a strong framework for doing so," said Kimberly Selkoe of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, CA and the University of Hawaii.
Selkoe is a principal investigator on the project, and she presented her findings along with Benjamin Halpern, also of NCEAS, who is the lead author of the Science paper.
Halpern explained that previous studies have generally focused on how a single type of human activity affects the ocean, or the condition of only one marine ecosystem. The new research looks at many different types of human activities and all marine ecosystems simultaneously, therefore presenting a more thorough, global picture of the oceans' health.
To create the map, the researchers compiled data from a variety of sources and fed them into a model that assigned a single value to each square kilometer of the ocean, reflecting the overall impact of all the human-induced changes at work in that particular spot.
The results show that no areas of the ocean are completely untouched by human activities. Roughly one-third of them are heavily impacted, and the most heavily affected environments are the continental shelves, rocky reefs, coral reefs, seagrass beds and seamounts.
Despite their vastness, the oceans are far from a pristine wilderness, the new findings suggest. But, "there is definitely room for hope," Halpern said. "With targeted efforts to protect the chunks of ocean that remain pristine, we have a good chance of preserving these areas in good condition."