Marine and Coastal Biodiversity
The ocean covers 71 percent of the surface area of the globe, and constitutes over 90 percent of the habitable space on the planet. It contains the blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, and billions upon billions of the tiniest: there are more microorganisms in the sea than there are stars in the Universe.
From sandy shores to the darkest depths of the sea, the ocean and coasts support a rich tapestry of life, from kelp forests that sway beneath the waves, to vents on the sea bed through which super-heated water and gases erupt, supporting a unique ecosystem that few humans have ever seen; from polar bears that stalk seals across the sea ice of the Arctic, to tiny photosynthesizing plants called phytoplankton that provide 50 percent of all the oxygen on Earth.
People have lived near and fished from the ocean for thousands of years; today, an estimated 41 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast, and fisheries provide over 15 percent of the dietary intake of animal protein.
However, although humanity has frequently benefited from the bounty of the ocean and the wildlife it contains, the ocean and the marine wildlife have not always benefited from the attentions of humanity. Some species, such as the great auk and the sea mink, are extinct; others, notably the great whales, have been hunted to fractions of their original populations. Commercial overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks is so severe that it has been estimated that up to 13 percent of global fisheries have ‘collapsed.’ Between 30 and 35 percent of the global extent of critical marine habitats such as seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs are estimated to have been destroyed. The burning of fossil fuels is causing the ocean to become warmer and more acidic, with consequences we are only beginning to grasp.
But there is hope. Around the world, species and populations are recovering with effort and intervention from communities and governments; large areas are being established as protected areas; and the Convention on Biological Diversity has established a series of specific targets that require stakeholders at all levels to work together to protect the biodiversity that lives in the ocean, for its own sake and for the benefits it brings to people worldwide.
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