An international study recently published in the journal Nature that was led by KAUST Professors Carlos Duarte and Susana Agustí lays out the essential road map of actions required for the planet’s marine life to recover to full abundance by 2050.
The project brings together the world’s leading marine scientists working across four continents, in 10 countries and from 16 universities, including KAUST, Aarhus University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Boston University, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Sorbonne Universite, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, Dalhousie University and the University of York.
“We are at a point where we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean,” said Duarte, KAUST professor of marine science and the Tarek Ahmed Juffali research chair in Red Sea ecology.
“Our study documents recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. It provides specific, evidence-based recommendations to scale proven solutions globally,” Duarte added.
Although humans have greatly altered marine life to its detriment in the past, the researchers found evidence of the remarkable resilience of marine life and an emerging shift from steep losses of life throughout the 20th century to a slowing down of losses — and in some instances even recovery — over the first two decades of the 21st century.
The evidence — along with particularly spectacular cases of recovery, such as the example of humpback whales — highlights that the abundance of marine life can be restored, enabling a more sustainable, ocean-based economy.
The review states that the recovery rate of marine life can be accelerated to achieve substantial recovery within two to three decades for most components of marine ecosystems, provided that climate change is tackled and efficient interventions are deployed at large scale.
We are at a point where we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean.
Carlos Duarte, KAUST Professor of Marine Science
“Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future,” said Agusti, KAUST professor of marine science.
By studying the impact of previously successful ocean conservation interventions and recovery trends, the researchers identified nine components integral to rebuilding marine life: Salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep sea.
By stacking a combination of six complementary interventions called “recovery wedges,” the report identifies specific actions within the broad themes of protecting species, harvesting wisely, protecting spaces, restoring habitats, reducing pollution and the mitigation of climate change.
A key element identified for success is the mitigation of climate change by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of rebuilding the abundance of marine life can only succeed if the most ambitious goals within the Paris Agreement are reached.