An international team of ecologists and economists has made an incredibly scary prediction. In just a few short years, the world’s oceans will empty of fish. While that dire prophecy may seem a little alarmist, the scariest thing about it is that it is backed up with good ol’ science fact. It was published in Science, a publication that, if nothing else, does not publish bullshit. Cue terror in the streets.
Back in 2006, the study was done by a man named Boris Worm (whose hilarious name should not detract from his horrible prediction), who has a PhD from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Along with colleagues in the U.K, U.S., Sweden, and Panama, Worm has predicted that by the year 2048, the ocean will be devoid of fish – which, if it occurs, would effectively end life as we know it on planet Earth.
In an effort to discover exactly what would happen to the world if there were no more fish in the ocean, the researchers analyzed all kinds of data. What they found was much worse than they suspected. “I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are – beyond anything we suspected,” Worm said in a news release.
After doing 32 thorough experiments on a variety of marine environments, the team of researchers looked at the history from the past 1,000 years in 12 different coastal regions around the world. Then they analyzed fishery data from 64 marine ecosystems and how nearly 50 protected ocean areas recovered after their protection.
The news was not good. Overfishing, habitat loss, climate change (yes), and pollution are driving numbers of most species into a faster and faster decline. Keep in mind this study was published back in 2006 – but since then, not much has changed. Not enough, anyway. When the study was released, just over 1% of the ocean was deemed protected. As of last year, the World Database on Protected Areas – run by the United Nations Environment Program – reported that only 2.8% of the ocean is protected, and much of that is only token protection that isn’t effectively enforced. “This isn’t predicted to happen,” said Nicola Beaumont, a PhD of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K. “This is happening now.”
The team of researchers responsible for the study said that the loss of species isn’t a slow moving phenomenon, either. We’re accelerating the problem even as we talk about fixing it. And it’s not an issue of food for humans at all, just in case you’re thinking that no fish only means no more tuna tatar. Everything in the ocean plays a vital role – think of it like the greatest balancing act ever, and everything involved depends on everything else to stay in sync. Human beings are the proverbial brick in the washing machine, if you will. Species in the ocean play a vital role in our own survival; among their accidental benefits to human life is filtering toxins from the ocean and controlling algae blooms, which if left uncontrolled by nature, can have disastrous effects.
“A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast,” said Worm. “The loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences.” As creatures that walk on land, we need the ocean pretty damn badly. But, “if biodiversity continues to decline,” says Beaumont, “the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all.”
Worm and his colleagues have come up with a few vague, large solutions, though. Pollution control, habitat maintenance, sustainable fisheries management, and of course, the creation of more (and bigger) ocean reserves. Those actions shouldn’t be thought of as expenditures, the team says. According to them, investing in the earth will pay off in spades – less natural disasters like so called super storms, a more sustainable fishing industry, and perhaps most importantly, overall human health.
SOURCES: Worm, B. Science, Nov. 3, 2006; vol 314: pp 787-790. News release, SeaWeb. News release, American Association for the Advancement of Science and CBS News.