First global marine wilderness mapping shows how little remains

A new study sheds light on the dire situation that the marine wilderness is faced with.

Tyler MacDonald | Oct 06, 2019

New data from the first-ever systemic mapping of the world's marine wilderness reveals that only 13 percent of the world's ocean can still be considered wilderness. Not only that, the remaining wilderness is primarily found in the Antarctic, Arctic, or Pacific Island regions.

"We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains," said Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "The ocean is immense, covering over 70 percent of our planet, but we've managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem."

Although declines in wilderness have been documented in the past, marine wilderness has been less extensively studied.

"Pristine wilderness areas hold massive levels of biodiversity and endemic species and are some of the last places of Earth where big populations of apex predators are still found," Jones said.

The team also found that less than 5 percent of marine wilderness around the world is protected, especially in offshore ecosystems in areas with lots of biodiversity, like coral reefs.

"This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before," Jones said. "Thanks to a warming climate, even some places that were once safe due to year-round ice cover can now be fished."

The study highlights the necessity for action to protect the remaining marine wilderness. This requires environmental agreements on an international scale to recognize the value of marine wilderness and the understand the necessity of prevention strategies.

The findings were published in Current Biology.