But a new scientific review published in Nature Wednesday offered cause for hope. If governments work together to address the threats facing Earth's marine ecosystems, they could recover in just 30 years.
"We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren's generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so," study leader Carlos Duarte of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia said in a university press release published by Phys.org. "Failing to embrace this challenge—and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods—is not an option."
The ability of the #ocean 🌊to support human wellbeing is at a crossroads. #DYK: ✅The ocean currently contributes 2… https://t.co/LzmpfwEVyE— KAUST (@KAUST)1585813137.0
The review drew on the expertise of marine scientists from 10 countries and 16 universities. Together, they found several "signs of hope" pointing to the growing success of conservation efforts and the ocean's remarkable resilience, coauthor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told The Globe and Mail.
Those signs include:
- The percentage of the world's ocean under protection has grown from less than one percent in 2000 to almost eight percent today.
- The percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably has risen from 60 percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2012.
- Key habitats like kelp forests, seagrass beds and mangroves are being restored.
- Almost half of 124 marine mammal species are increasing.
All of this indicates that human action makes a difference, for good as well as ill.
"We see local efforts that lead to local improvements. We have global examples as well, species that are crossing international boundaries, that were close to extinction, that have rebounded – in some cases, manyfold," Worm said.
One of these individual species success stories is the population of humpback whales that migrate between Antarctica and eastern Australia. Their numbers have rebounded from a few hundred in 1968 to more than 40,000 today, according to The Guardian. Sea otters in Western Canada have also jumped from dozens in 1980 to thousands. Green turtles in Japan, grey seals and cormorants in the Baltic and elephant seals in the U.S. have all also made remarkable comebacks.
"One of the overarching messages of the review is, if you stop killing sea life and protect it, then it does come back," study coauthor Prof. Callum Roberts of the University of York told The Guardian.
That's not to say there aren't challenges. The researchers laid out actions that governments could take to restore the oceans to health by 2050, according to the press release.
These included protecting and restoring nine components of a healthy ocean:
- Salt marshes
- Coral reefs
- Oyster reefs
- The deep sea
The researchers also listed six "recovery wedges," or actions to be taken to restore these valuable ecosystems:
- Protecting species
- Harvesting wisely
- Protecting spaces
- Restoring habitats
- Reducing pollution
- Mitigating climate change
This last is particularly essential if any progress is to be made.
"If we don't tackle climate change and raise the ambition and immediacy of these efforts, we risk wasting our efforts," Duarte told BBC News.
Duarte said it was also important to reduce overfishing and pollution, including plastic waste.
The initial price tag on all this is hefty: $10 to $20 billion a year until the 2050 recovery date. But the researchers said the efforts would make back $10 for every dollar spent.
"Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future," Susana Agusti, KAUST professor of marine science, said in the press release.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.