Sea-ing to oceanic conservation

The recent dolphin selfie incident has brought the importance of sea-life stewardship to the forefront of environmental news but Matt Byrne questions if the world really is doing enough to protect and promote survival of maritime wildlife.

9th March 2016

From the dolphin that was passed around for tourist selfies at an Argentinian beach to the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott’s, destructive policies on the Great Barrier Reef, it is clear that recently there has been substantial negative publicity that we are not doing enough to conserve sea life.

Until recently mankind viewed the oceans as an unlimited source of food. However, over fishing has become an increasingly major problem. It is estimated that 85% of fisheries are currently over fished and that 90% of adult tuna do not reproduce. As a consequence the extinction risk of blue fin tuna moved from “least concerned” to “vulnerable” in 2014. To prevent overfishing experts suggest eating more anchovies and other fish lower down the food chain, as fish lower down the food chain are more plentiful. Moreover the limited supply and increased demand for predators, such as tuna, drives prices higher and the increased price is an incentive for fishermen to fish predators further. The experts also suggest rewarding sustainable fishing, punishing unsustainable fishing, and promoting small fisheries as they have a smaller impact on the environment. Despite this advice, it is unlikely that there will be significant change unless consumer practices change or laws are introduced. After all who likes eating anchovies?

As well as the fish themselves concerted efforts are needed to protect their environments. Coral reefs are an essential habit for many species of fish, however they are at risk. The deterioration of the coral reefs is primarily due to human activity. Currently 88% of coral reefs are endangered due to increased carbon dioxide, overfishing, destructive fishing and pollution. There appears to be no consensus on global warming, and it is estimated that the global temperature will increase by two degrees. Over fishing and destructive fishing methods are especially damaging for pacific island nations, such as Samoa and Indonesia, which rely heavily on fish as a food source. However, in some places a dangerous cycle has arisen. Strained coral supports fewer fish, which has lead to fishermen using to more destructive fishing processes, such as cyanide and dynamite. While this is provides short-term solution, it results in long-term damage that compounds the problem. Solutions suggested include community education.

"88% of coral reefs are endangered due to increased carbon dioxide, overfishing, destructive fishing and pollution"

However, this only targets the symptoms not the problem itself. Therefore more needs to be done to protect the coral reefs themselves, to prevent the problem arising in the first place. It is clear that more can be done to protect reefs and prevent deleterious fishing methods.

It must be considered that the concept of marine conservation has only existed since the 1970s and the effects of overfishing were not fully considered until recently. Behavioural changes and policies do take time to have an effect and therefore their effects may have not been fully felt yet.

There are a number of charities that are involved in marine conservation, such as Green Peace, and some more militant organisations such as Sea Shepherd. These organisations work to conserve sea life, and have been relatively successful in doing so. Green Peace is a major proponent of marine conservation and due to their efforts Iceland’s fin whale hunt has been cancelled for 2016 and John West, a tuna company, agreed to 100% sustainable fishing due to Green Peace campaigns. While it is clear that not enough is currently being done to protect sea life, the movement towards protected oceans is gaining momentum. However, for marine conservation to be fully realised there needs to also be consumer education, and government involvement to develop laws to prevent damaging fishing practices.

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