Scientists at the UCSB National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis have put the total human impact on the oceans on the map.
The NCEAS has compiled data to produce a map that shows the total effect humanity has had on the oceans. The map – which uses a color spectrum from blue to red, where blue shows the least affected areas and red shows the most affected areas – reveals that about 40 percent of the world’s oceans are heavily impacted from destructive human activities, such as commercial shipping.
Carrie Kappel, an NCEAS post-doctorate researcher and a principal investigator for the project, said the impact of humanity on the oceans has left only four percent of the world’s oceans slightly affected.
“There are no places on the globe with no impact from human activities,” Kappel said.
Data was compiled from studies spanning 19 ocean ecosystem types ranging from kelp forests to deep oceans. The data extracted from these studies focused on 17 different human activities – such as destructive fishing forms, invasive species and global climate change – determined to have an impact on the natural order of marine life.
Kappel said that the most affected places were where multiple human activities occur.
“The red spots, in general, include a lot of overlapping activities and particularly vulnerable habitats,” Kappel said. “Destructive forms of fishing, commercial shipping, invasive species and global climate change are some types of activities.”
The project is the first to compile data on multiple effects on a global scale, Kappel said. Severely affected areas include the oceans surrounding the United Kingdom, the East Coast of North America, South and East China, waters around Japan, areas in the Mediterranean and parts of the Persian Gulf. The low-impact areas were mostly near the Arctic Ocean and Northern Australia.
While the information seems dire, Ben Halpern, the NCEAS project coordinator and principal investigator, said the study provides some hope.
“There is not just a homogeneous space that is impacted,” Halpern said. “There is an opportunity to protect the low-impact areas.”
Additionally, Kappel said that though the damage appears severe, it is potentially reversible.
“A lot of people have been asking, ‘Is there any hope?’ ‘Are these threats reversible?'” Kappel said. “Though we were surprised how bad things were, we find hope in this map because many of the threats are reversible with proper management.”
Kappel said she suggests international treaties to keep commercial shipping away from the “blue zones.”
“There are a lot of blue areas on the map that we can learn a lot from,” said Kappel.
According to Kim Selkoe, a molecular ecologist and a principal investigator on the project, the map can be useful to groups working on conservation on the global scale, such as the United Nations Environment Programme, because the data can be used to locate problem areas on the globe and implement management strategies to maintain ocean resources.
The team’s findings and the map were published in Science magazine on Feb. 15. The map is available for download off the NCEAS site at www.nceas.ucsb.edu/GlobalMarine.