Although marine life is forever changed through human interference, a recent review reminds us that implementing interventions today can yield positive results in the future.
Preserving the natural environment by reducing ocean plastic pollution and mitigating climate change are the grandest challenges of our time. While complexity and scale can dampen motivations for finding solutions, the disconnect between action and outcome must also be addressed. Bringing evidence of positive change to the fore could be part of that strategy. A study highlighting successes of past interventions aimed at reducing harm to marine life and predicting a more hopeful future might just be what is needed.
The review published in the science journal Nature found that 50-90% recovery of marine life is possible by 2050. The study accounted for variations of decline and recovery rates of different species and habitats. Yet, species extinction and fragmented data made it impossible to develop a baseline to revert the ocean back to a desired condition. With an eye towards the future, researchers argue that conserving the status quo should no longer be the goal. Instead, success should be measured by the restoration of marine ecological structure and functions, alongside increasing resilience and capacity to sustain an additional 2-3 million livelihoods by 2050.
What is most powerful about the study is that it places today’s context into perspective. It reminds us that pressures on marine life is not novel and that restoration requires patience. Threats to our oceans have been imminent since before the industrial revolution, with many problems peaking in the 1980s. Hunting, overfishing and the destruction of coastal habitats through deforestation were already putting considerable pressure on marine life. However, many interventions such as hunting regulations, international treaties, management of global fish stocks and habitat restoration have had a positive impact.
Though successes vary by region, the analysis provides a glimmer of hope with regards to the most recent threats to our oceans. Positive results are achievable, but international measures must be implemented sooner rather than later.