Helmed by UCSB researchers, a two-year study examining human’s impact on our regional oceans was published recently, mapping both the primary and everyday culprits behind the degradation of our oceans.

The study, which was conducted by the UCSB National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, recognized global climate change, large-scale fishing and commercial shipping as the leading contributors to oceanic damage, but also pointed to the activities of everyday life as a source of harm. The research focused on the effects of human activity on particular marine ecosystems along the western seaboard of the United States. Not surprisingly, the worst damage was concentrated around urban centers, the study found.

The study charted 25 different human activities onto one map, Ben Halpern, a marine ecologist at NCEAS, said. The purpose, he added, was to provide the researchers with a composite map of the west coast’s marine ecosystems, which would then act as an easy to understand visual that links human causes to ocean damages.

“People do all kinds of things in, on and around the ocean,” Halpern said. “If you just look at one source of human impacts, you won’t get the whole picture, so we created a big picture of how we affect the ocean. The purpose of the study is to understand and highlight the reality of the cumulative impacts we as humans have on the ocean.”

Yet while the study pointed to climate change and large commercial operations as major perpetrators, Halpern added that most citizens are guilty of many everyday practices that are extremely damaging to our oceans.

“There’s this idea that the oceans are huge or vast, and we don’t have any real impact on them,” Halpern said. “Every person is having an impact on the ocean in their daily routines. We all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on oceans as we use and enjoy them.”

Pollution can seep into the ocean from both land-based sources and commercial maritime activities, Halpern said, and these pollutants have serious adverse affects on the globe’s large bodies of water.

“[There are] lots of different things we included in the study, from nutrient run off from farms, pesticides and manure from animal farms and inorganic pollutants, to noise and light pollution that disturb the near shore areas inhabited by marine life, coastal engineering and the direct trampling of the beaches by visitors,” he said.

Government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency are leading proponents of ocean preservation, Halpern said, but still more needs to be done to ensure the ocean’s well being.

“If [the government] coordinated their efforts, it would make a big difference,” Halpern said. “Businesses also have a responsibility as they are extracting value from the oceans. They need to be held responsible for how they are affecting other industries. So every level of society has some responsibility to protect and sustain the oceans.”

The specifics of the study, including the process and results, were published online in the academic journal Conservation Letters.