Without the ocean and its resources, the wealth and wellbeing enjoyed by some of the world’s population would not exist. But the future of this unique ecosystem faces a grave threat today. That is because the principle of the freedom of the seas, which has held for hundreds of years, and which granted everyone unlimited access to the ocean and its resources, has resulted in overfishing, the loss of biodiversity, and ocean pollution.
Seas and oceans cover more than two-thirds of our planet's surface. They are rich in resources and provide us with food, energy, and minerals. Oceans are important transportation routes and crucial for the stability of our climate and the weather. But due to overfishing, the loss of biodiversity, and ocean pollution, the future of this unique ecosystem faces a grave threat today.
The principle of the freedom of the seas, which has held for hundreds of years, granting everyone virtually unlimited access to the ocean and its resources, has resulted in overfishing, the loss of biodiversity, and ocean pollution. Our oceans and coasts are important parts of our environment – and they urgently need our protection.
The Ocean Atlas illustrates the important role played by the seas and the global maritime ecosystems – not just for people living on the coasts but for all of us. The Atlas provides up-to-date insights into the state of the seas that form a basis of human livelihood and into the factors threatening them.
Table of contents
Fish – almost out of stock?
The state of many fisheries is dramatic: many are exhausted, and many industrial fisheries have been exploited to their limits. This especially affects people in poorer countries who live from traditional coastal fisheries. Quotas and protected areas are violated by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which is responsible for nearly a third of the global catch.
Aquaculture: Are Fish Farms the Future?
Half the fish that land on the world’s plates come from aquaculture. But unsustainable fish farming does not lower the demand for wild-caught fish and causes significant environmental stress. Can the rising demand for fish and seafood be met without causing serious environmental damage?
Fertilizer for the Dead Zones
The massive use of artificial fertilizer and manure in industrialized farming introduces loads of nitrates and phosphates to coastal waters via rivers, causing accelerated algae growth. The result: gigantic dead zones devoid of oxygen – and life.
Trash in the Surf, Poison in the Sea
We use the ocean as a garbage dump. The coastal areas are especially hard hit. The sources of the garbage are diverse – and the impact on the affected ecosystems is immense.
The Microplastic Problem
Bits of plastic floating in the ocean are only the visible sign of a much larger problem. That’s because only 0.5% of the plastic waste actually winds up in the garbage patches. The lion's share of the plastic that ends up in the ocean lies hidden on the seafloor.
The Danger of Declining Diversity Invasive species, typically introduced to foreign ecosystems by international shipping, drive out native species. Other negative factors like the rising water temperatures weaken many species’ resistance to environmental changes. Even more troubling: the resulting loss of genetic diversity cannot be reset.
How the Ocean Slows Climate Change
Without the climate-regulating effect of the ocean, our world would be very different. Above all it would be much warmer. The ocean stores heat and CO2 in large quantities, slowing climate change and ameliorating its effects – which is good for us. But the ocean and its ecosystem are suffering significant damage.
Warming Waters and Rising Risks
The oceans are warming and the sea level is rising – but not in the same degree overall. Islands and coastal areas in the southern hemisphere are especially affected, and many have already been abandoned. But that is just the beginning, and even more people may be forced to flee in the future.
Life in the Danger Zone
Most of the world’s large metropolises lie on the coasts, many of them on river deltas. Though the risk of being struck by a natural disaster is especially high there, the growth of coastal megacities continues unabated. But only rich countries can afford the necessary coastal protection measures.
A Corrosive Future
The oceans are acidifying faster than ever in Earth’s history – too quickly for many organisms to adapt. Calcifying species like mussels, snails, and corals have been especially hard hit. It is difficult for them to form their protective shells in acidic water. But the offspring of fish are also threatened.
Exploitation and Protected Areas
The idea that the ocean must be protected is a recent one. Our ancestors thoughtlessly overexploited natural resources, including the sea. A treasure trove of sea life has been lost in the past, a loss we can hardly imagine today. Only in the last 30 years has the size of the protected areas grown significantly – but it is still just a fraction of the total area.
Global Hunger For Resources
Large mining companies, in conjunction with industrialized nations, are grasping for the treasures of the deep sea. Global market prices and declining acceptance for mining on dry land have made the intensive business lucrative. The exploitation of the nearly untouched depths is about to begin, even though the ecological and social effects have not been adequately studied.
Where Does the Future Lie?
Renewable energy from the ocean offers hope to many. The sea may be the future of energy. Untapped reserves of fossil fuels beckon, but getting them brings risks – known ones from extracting oil from the deep sea and unknown ones from mining methane hydrate.
Holidays on and near the sea are a booming business. Cruise ships are growing larger and larger, and more and more coasts are being converted into vacation destinations. But what are the consequences for nature and for the people who keep the vacation machinery running at these tourism hotspots?
World Trade and Price Wars
International shipping is the engine of the global economy, but it has been in a deep crisis since 2008: freight prices have fallen drastically and shipping multinationals are caught in price wars that only a few will survive. And what happens to the now unnecessary giant freighters?
Living With the Ocean The ocean gives us so much; our lives and livelihoods often depend on it. If we want to benefit from its gifts in the future, we must change our behavior toward this vast aquatic continent. And that’s not the only reason to act.
The World Must Act Together: Towards A New Governance of the Ocean
There are no comprehensive global strategies that address the complexity of the marine ecosystem. The oceans today are among the least protected and responsibly administered areas of the world. In view of the importance of the ocean, this is irresponsible and must be changed quickly.