Tag: fishing

The World’s Marine Life Population Has Declined By Half In The Last 40 Years

A major report by the World Wildlife Foundation has found that the world’s oceans are in peril, with some marine populations declining by almost half in the last 40 years. The scale of the loss is unprecedented and further decline could prove catastrophic for the human population. But what can be done?

What’s Causing The Decline?

The world’s ocean life provides important ecosystem services such as the provision of food, medicines, and livelihood. For thousands of years, mankind has turned to the seas for life-giving sustenance. Yet, in recent centuries, technology has allowed us to take more than ever before–and that’s not exactly a good thing.

Enormous commercial fleets, sophisticated computer equipment, and even government subsidies have led to too many boats on the water and too much marine life being caught. On top of that, poor fishery management, bycatch of juvenile fish, and pirate fishers (boats that don’t follow the rules) only exacerbate the problem.

In the U.S., for example, roughly 17% of major fish stocks are not being fished sustainably–despite having strong fishery laws. Worldwide, more than a pound of marine animals are being caught for every four pounds of fish. Many are killed in the nets or are later tossed overboard to die. And shrimping is even worse: four or more pounds of unwanted animals are caught for every one pound of shrimp.

And while exploitation of natural resources is the major threat to marine life, climate change is changing the oceans faster than ever before. Even with their vast ability to absorb heat and carbon dioxide, the oceans were 0.17 Celsius warmer in 2017 than in 2000–and while that number may seem negligible, it’s actually taken a huge toll. From coral bleaching, to fish migration, to acidification, the ocean is reaching the limits of what it can actually handle.

Which Species Are In Danger?

All of the world’s ocean life is at risk, but marine creatures of the Pacific Ocean are in greater peril than the rest. This is because there are fewer regulations in Asia, and they are fishing more waters. Of particular concern is the Chinese practice of “shark-finning”, or removing just the fins from the shark and throwing the body back in the water.

In addition, global populations of the Scombridae family of food fish (tunas, mackerels, and bonitos) have fallen by an astounding 74%, while other creatures such as the Hawksbill Turtle and Hawaiin Monk Seal are critically endangered.

It’s not just the fish and animals that are in trouble. Their habitats are, too. Some, such as mangroves and seagrasses, have seen a significant decline. It is also estimated that 75% of the remaining coral reefs in the world are currently in danger–and while they are technically an animal, they also serve as a home for many other creatures.

What Can Be Done?

The scope of the problem may seem overwhelming, but there are concrete steps that can be taken to help restore the world’s oceans.

According to the WWF report, “Creating networks of well-managed Marine Protected Areas is a proven way to enable wildlife and habitats to recover. Pushing for a strong global deal on climate change would help the seas sustain life far into the future. Taking serious steps to implement this year’s Sustainable Development Goals in the UK and abroad could help build a global economy that values natural capital, respects natural habitats and rewards responsible business.”

In addition, each one of us can make a difference every day by choosing sustainably harvested fish, volunteering for a marine rescue center, or just taking shorter showers.

Sea Cucumbers Are Fueling The Black Market

Sea cucumbers are spiny, squishy-bodied creatures that live on the ocean floor. They are mostly sedentary and feed by waving their feathery tentacles through the water and filtering out microorganisms. For a long time, nobody cared much about or bothered these strange animals, but a recent surge in popularity has led to drastic overfishing, driving multiple species of sea cucumber to threatened or endangered levels.

Their Role In The Environment

The impact of sea cucumbers on their local ecosystems is far from trivial. These creatures are filtering machines, removing toxins and microscopic debris from their surroundings and replacing it with clean seawater and sediment. In areas where sea cucumber populations have declined, the amount of particulate matter suspended in the water has increased noticeably, leaving the water murky.

When these crucial animals are removed from their homes in coral reefs, the rate of coral bleaching increases drastically. Sea cucumbers play an essential role in the balancing of ocean pH as rising carbon dioxide levels make oceans more acidic. While these creatures continue to thrive in their deeper habitats, out of the reach of commercial fishers, populations in shallower waters are rapidly depleted.

As A Delicacy

In many Asian countries, especially in China, sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy. Demand for the peculiar-looking food has soared in recent years with the growth of the middle-class population in China. Adding to its allure, the seafood is also reported to have beneficial medicinal qualities.

Some studies have shown that the flesh of sea cucumbers does contain compounds that can help soothe arthritis pains and possibly slow the growth of cancerous cells. As amazing as those claims are, more consumers are drawn to sea cucumbers as they are believed to be an aphrodisiac. Domestic fisheries cannot keep up with the local demand, so the countries have outsourced to international exporters, many of which operate under the nose of the law. The sudden boom in popularity has created a lucrative black market niche that is causing incredible environmental damage.

Black Market Goods

The black market trade of sea cucumbers is a staple in some coastal economies, particularly in Morocco, where the shallow reefs a short distance offshore were home to thousands of these animals. Weak legislation surrounding international exports and local fishing has facilitated the overfishing of marine life. When a town comes to depend on the capture and export of an animal like sea cucumbers, which are being harvested more quickly than they can reproduce, the fisheries tend to become exhausted in a matter of years.

Once a local population has been depleted, the market moves on to the next fishery. This migrating market is not only detrimental to the coastal varieties of sea cucumbers, but it devastates the host towns by disrupting their local economies. Families who had once made their living doing legitimate work end up drawn in with the promise of quick and easy cash. As the resource dries up, money becomes harder to come by, and families find that they have less and less to live on as time goes on. Eventually, the buyers decide that the fishery is no longer lucrative and they move on to the next location.