Protecting the Ocean: 5 Essential Reads on Invasive Species, Overfishing, and Other Threats to Marine Life

By | June 6, 2023

Pesce in una foresta di alghe al largo dell'isola di San Benito, in Messico.  <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" bersaglio="_vuoto" dati-ylk="slk:Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images;elm:context_link;itc:0" classe="collegamento ">Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images</a>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYzOQ–/ 7c705e19721970d5eb55a” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYzOQ–/ 5e19721970d5eb55a”/><button class=

Humans rely on the ocean for many things, including food, jobs, recreation, and stabilizing the earth’s climate. But while the ocean’s resources may seem endless, human impacts like pollution, overfishing and climate change are creating what United Nations Secretary-General Antnio Guterres has called an ocean emergency. Climate change is pushing ocean temperatures to record highs, many fishing grounds are overfished, and plastic waste is piling up in the deep sea.

These five articles from The Conversations archive highlight pressing challenges facing ocean conservation and describe what researchers are doing to devise effective responses.

1. A devastating invasion is spreading

Invasive lionfish are aggressive predators, native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, that feed on smaller reef fish. They have caused great damage in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico since they first appeared in the Atlantic in 1985. They have now spread to southern Brazil, which has many rare endemic fish species and is lagging behind in responding.

As one of many Brazilian scientists who have repeatedly warned of a potential lionfish invasion over the past decade, I am disheartened that my country has missed the window to act soon, wrote Osmar J. Luiz, marine scientist at the Charles Darwin University. Now, however, marine researchers and local communities are stepping up.

I pesci leone hanno spine velenose che li proteggono dai predatori.  <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" bersaglio="_vuoto" dati-ylk="slk:Florida Fish and Wildlife;elm:context_link;itc:0" classe="collegamento ">Florida Fish and Wildlife</a>, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" bersaglio="_vuoto" dati-ylk="slk:CC BY-ND;elm:context_link;itc:0" classe="collegamento ">CC BY-ND</a>” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MQ–/ fd3b061b5fb0c84bafd4″/><noscript><img alt=Florida Fish and Wildlife, CC BY-ND” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MQ–/ d3b061b5fb0c84bafd4″ class=”caas -img”/>

An important control strategy has been the creation of an interactive dashboard where anyone can report lionfish sightings. Other steps are likely to include environmental education, organized culling, and genetic research to identify distinct populations of lionfish and see where they’re moving. With such an invasion of lionfish underway in the Mediterranean, effective responses are urgently needed.

Read more: Invasive lionfish have spread south from the Caribbean to Brazil, threatening ecosystems and livelihoods

2. Seabed mining poses ecological risks

One of the oceans’ potentially most valuable resources has not yet been exploited, but that may be about to change.

Scattered over large swathes of the ocean floor, clumps of pebble-like manganese nodules contain rich deposits of nickel, copper, cobalt and other metals that are recently required for the production of batteries and renewable energy components.

Heated debate is raging as a Canadian company plans to launch the first commercial deep-sea mining operation in the Pacific Ocean, Indiana University scholars Scott Shackelford, Christiana Ochoa, David Bosco and Kerry Krutilla have warned.

Less than 10% of the deep seabed has been thoroughly mapped and most of the life forms discovered have never been seen before. Collecting materials from the ocean floor could harm these species, such as by burying them in sediments. We believe it would be wise to better understand this fragile existing ecosystem before rushing to mine it, concluded the authors.

Read more: Seabed mining plans pit renewable energy demand against ocean life in largely unexplored frontier

3. Illegal fishing is common and hard to detect

Illegal fishing that catches too many fish or harvesting threatened species causes economic losses estimated at $10 to $25 billion annually. It has also been linked to human rights abuses, such as forced labor and human trafficking. But it’s easy to conduct these activities out of sight on the high seas.

By observing when and where fishing vessels switched off their position transponders at sea, academic and non-governmental researchers have shown that these silences can be an important signal.

Vessels often darkened on the high-seas edge of exclusive economic zone boundaries, which can obscure illegal fishing in unauthorized locations, wrote Heather Welch, an ecosystem dynamics researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Vessels may also disable their transponders to avoid pirates or to avoid luring competitors to rich fishing grounds, so making it illegal to turn off their signals isn’t a practical strategy. But further analysis of where boats darken could help governments target inspections and patrols, reducing crime at sea.

Read more: When fishing boats go dark at sea, they often commit crimes that we’ve mapped out where it happens

4. Scientists are designing an Internet of the ocean

Just as there are countless life forms in the ocean yet to be discovered, there are also many unanswered questions about its physical processes. For example, scientists know that the ocean pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and transfers it to deep waters, where it can be stored for long periods. But they don’t know how biological and chemical changes affect this carbon cycling process.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts are designing a monitoring system called the Ocean Vital Signs Network that could allow them to test strategies for storing more carbon in the ocean and monitoring how well it is functioning. They envision a vast network of moorings and sensors providing 4D eyes on the oceans, fourth dimension is time that is always on, always connected to monitor these carbon cycle processes and ocean health, wrote WHO Director Peter de Menocal, marine geologist and paleoclimatologist.

The network would include smart gliders and autonomous vehicles that could collect data and then dock, reload and upload it. It would also use sensors and acoustic transceivers to monitor the dark, hidden reaches of the ocean where carbon is stored. This network makes observation possible to make decisions that will influence future generations, de Menocal wrote.

Read more: Scientists imagine an ‘Internet of the ocean’, with sensors and autonomous vehicles that can explore the deep sea and monitor its vital signs

5. Plastic waste in the oceans has a message for humans

In recent decades, plastic pollution has become one of the most widespread environmental crises in the world. Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans, killing marine creatures, choking ecosystems and threatening human health.

Georgia State University art professor Pam Longobardi grew up in New Jersey, where her father brought home plastic trinkets from his job at the Union Carbide chemical company. Today she Longobardi collects plastic waste from shores around the world and sculpts it into large-scale installations that are both captivating and alarming.

Albatross and Hope Floats, 2017. Plastica oceanica recuperata, coperte di salvataggio di sopravvivenza, cinghie di giubbotti di salvataggio e acciaio.  Pam Longobardi, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" bersaglio="_vuoto" dati-ylk="slk:CC BY-ND;elm:context_link;itc:0" classe="collegamento ">CC BY-ND</a>” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/ 47f416d0a0759a99c95″/><noscript><img alt=CC BY-ND” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/ 7f416d0a0759a99c95″ class=”caas -img”/>
Albatross and Hope Floats, 2017. Recovered ocean plastic, survival life blankets, life jacket straps and steel. Pam Longobardi, CC BY-ND

I see plastic as a zombie material that infests the ocean, wrote Longobardi. I am particularly interested in the plastic of the oceans for what it reveals about us as humans in a global culture and about the ocean as a cultural space and a giant dynamic engine of life and change. Because ocean plastic visibly shows nature’s attempts to reabsorb and regurgitate it, it has profound stories to tell.

Read more: My art uses plastic salvaged from beaches around the world to understand how our consumer society is transforming the ocean

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversations archives.

This article was republished from The Conversation, an independent non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Do you like this article? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Written by: Jennifer Weeks, The conversation.

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