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Protecting Our Seas

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Biodiversity is what we use to describe the large variety of life on Earth, including the variety within, as well as between, species. All species live within ecosystems that are structured in such an intricate way that all those within it rely and depend for survival on each other. Ecosystems are, thus, sensitive to the slightest change, which can cause ripples that disturb the delicate balance in place.

Looking at marine ecosystems—oceans, estuaries, coral reefs, the sea floor, just to name a few—we can see how human intervention has caused great distress. As a result, conservation organizations try to restore marine ecosystems and prevent damage in the first place. Before looking at the steps being taken by marine conservationists, let us first have a look at the problems that our marine ecosystems face.

Fishing has been one of the ways humans have sustained themselves since the beginning of time; the boundless bounty of the seas was erroneously believed to be infinite. In modern time, with the advancement of fishing equipment and technologies, including the use of sonar and satellite equipment to locate catch, some areas have suffered from overfishing. Some have even become “dead zones”, meaning life in those areas has been destroyed, and ecosystems have become terribly degraded.

The problem occurs when specific species of fish are targeted for fishing, and are overfished to the extent that their population cannot recover and bounce back. This disturbs the balance of the ecosystem, and in some instances, causes permanent changes and destruction to wildlife. When one species is overfished to that extent, people move on to another species, repeating the same vicious cycle, causing great harm with their short-sightedness. While this causes environmental problems, it also causes economic problems, because in some areas fishing becomes commercially non-viable, leading to loss of jobs and affecting coastal communities that rely on them for subsistence.

As fish populations decrease due to unsustainable practices, some have taken to aggressive fishing methods. One such method is trawling, which is pulling a large fishing net by one or several boats. Such methods can cause the bycatch of species that were not targeted, but end up dying when caught in the nets. Dolphins and porpoises are two of the species that commonly suffer from this fate, leading to a sharp decline in their numbers.

Another problem is when these fishing boats implement bottom trawling, which is when they drag the nets across the seabed floor. This causes great disturbances to the floor and creates large muddy waters in its trail that disturb debris and pollutants. It also can greatly damage sensitive coral reefs that take long to recover, if they ever do.

These are but a small number of destructive methods of fishing that are causing depletion in marine biodiversity; they occur due to inadequate policies. There is also a lack of political will to take a stand and defend the waters from our predatory actions; however, there have been calls to change our ways. Usually, at the forefront of the battle to save our environment are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work in conservation and urge policy makers to take action and promote a more holistic approach to our environment.

Some of the ways being implemented to protect marine life is the creation of protected zones where fishing and human intervention is prohibited. This allows marine ecosystems and biodiversity to regroup and heal from previous mismanagement. Another tactic is the creation of a certification system that acts as an incentive for the fishing industry to clean up its act and harvest food in a more sustainable and environmentally conscientious way, and to also improve its fishing techniques to limit the bycatch of unwanted species.

One of the most well-known conservation organizations is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which was founded in Switzerland in 1961. Its mission is to reduce the impact of humanity’s footprint on the environment and stop the degradation of the Earth’s environment.

What we can do as individuals to help in this worldwide effort is to buy seafood from vendors who adhere to sustainable ways of fishing, whether in the sea or commercial fish farms. We should teach our children the importance of this issue in order to create a collective consciousness that views the environment as a precious gift to be respected, protected and loved, to ensure it continues to exist in a good state for future generations.

References
billionaire.com
blog.nature.org
issues.org
wwf.org.au


*The original article was published in SCIplanet, Earth Sciences (Spring 2017) Issue.

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