World Wildlife Week: Life below water matters
For the first time, the UN's World Wildlife Day is highlighting threats to marine life. The theme of World Wildlife Day 2019, which takes place on March 3, is 'Life below water: for people and planet'.
Marine wildlife has sustained human civilization and development for millennia, from providing food and nourishment, to material for handicraft and construction. It has also enriched our lives culturally, spiritually, and recreationally in different ways.
Despite their importance for sustainable development, marine species are facing many threats and need our immediate attention if we want to ensure that they can continue to fulfill their important and multiple roles during our lifetimes and for future generations.
The capacity of life below water to provide these services is severely impacted, as our planet's oceans and the species that live within it are under assault from an onslaught of threats.
These include the most significant and direct threat of overexploitation particularly unsustainable fishing and other marine species extraction practices but also important threats such as climate change, marine pollution and habitat destruction.
These threats have a strong impact on the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on marine ecosystem services, particularly women and men in coastal communities.
The first comprehensive map of ocean wilderness has revealed that just 13 per cent of the world's oceans remain untouched by the damaging impacts of human activities, say scientists.
They said most of the remaining marine wilderness was unprotected, leaving it vulnerable to being lost.
"Marine areas that can be considered pristine are becoming increasingly rare as fishing and shipping fleets expand their reach across almost all of the world's oceans, and sediment runoff smothers many coastal areas," said Kendall Jones, a PhD candidate at UQ.
"Improvements in shipping technology mean that even the most remote wilderness areas may come under threat in the future, including once ice-covered places that are now accessible because of climate change," said Jones.
In the study published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers found little wilderness remaining in coastal habitats such as coral reefs, because of nearby human activities.
The findings highlight an immediate need for conservation policies to recognise and protect the unique values of marine wilderness.