Marine scientist and president of Marine Conservation Institute, Lance Morgan, shares how his organisation’s Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) initiative is delving deep to protect our oceans.
We can thank the oceans for providing half of the oxygen we breathe, giving us a fifth of the animal protein we eat and absorbing about a third of human-created CO2 emissions. Oceans are also a highly promising source of new medicines. But, strangely, we humans continue to carelessly destroy precious marine ecosystems, home to millions of species from the tiniest plankton to enormous blue whales.
Marine scientists worldwide agree that establishing a global network of strongly protected marine areas is one of the best ways to save the oceans from the havoc humans are causing. Currently, only 2% of the ocean has any protection, and our goal is to increase that to at least 20%.
The tricky part, though, is protecting the right ocean areas (not simply “pristine” places or historic shipwrecks) and ensuring the protection is strong enough to really provide the long-term abundance and resilience we need. For the past year, we have led a team of international scientists that has been figuring out how we can create the change we need. There are several pieces of the puzzle that need to be addressed.
The system of protected marine areas needs to represent the diversity of ecosystems in each “biogeographic” region of the world’s oceans. For example, if we only protect the marine life found in tropical marine ecosystems, then we risk losing species found in the Arctic and many other regions. Ocean-mapping technologies and habitat modeling can help with this.
In addition, each individual protected marine area within the system will be most effective if it safeguards critical habitats, or endangered species, and eliminates “extractive” uses such as fishing and oil drilling. We have to take into account the needs of marine animals that migrate long distances, such as whales and sea turtles, and provide a continuous set of strongly protected marine areas so they can move freely and survive.
Enforcement is also important. Innovative technology is being developed, which combines satellite tracking and imagery data with other sources of information, such as fishing-vessel databases and oceanographic data. These technologies help managers monitor activities, such as illegal fishing, in remote global waters.
The oceans require a strategic and systematic approach to ensure we are protecting marine life and the critical places where they live. It’s not an easy task, but we are passionately tackling the complexities because humankind’s survival may just depend on it!
– Lance Morgan is president of Marine Conservation Institute and a marine biologist with more than 30 years of experience in conservation. He has explored the ocean as a scuba diver, aquanaut and submersible pilot. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.
- Background image: Brian Skerry