A meeting of international oceanographers have warned that the world’s oceans are in crisis, and dramatic measures are needed to protect endangered marine life and stop the dumping of pollutants.
The environmental group Conservation International brought together scientists, business leaders and some government officials from all over the world, to set out a blueprint for global action. Some of the scientists at the conference in Mexico say the world can learn from South Africa’s experience in marine conservation.
Mexico’s sparkling sea of Cortez provided a alluring backdrop to the conference; however the experts gathered unanimously lamented the state of the world’s ocean. The gathering was convened by Sylvia Earl, world-renowned oceanographer and undersea explorer.
"We’ve been complacent, largely ignorant of the fact that the oceans are in trouble. It is a wake up call that we’ve been getting just in the past few months, the past couple of years," Earl said. One of the wake up calls is a recent scientific study that concluded 90% of the world’s large fish – shark, tuna, marlin and many more – have been wiped out in the past 50 years by commercial fishing.
Reclaiming the oceans
Over decades, the combination of taking millions of tonnes of wildlife from the seas while at the time dumping millions of tonnes of pollutants means reclaiming the oceans is a daunting challenge. But it is a challenge which the experts gathered here insist can be met.
One of South Africa’s leading oceanographers says the challenge is being met there, as the country has designated 6% of its sea and coastlines as marine protected areas, off limits to fishermen. That is significantly more than many other countries.
Protected areas do work
Professor George Branch, of the University of Cape Town, said: "People often say they don’t believe that marine protected areas will work, because fish move so much and perhaps they’re not protected properly. But we’ve discovered all over the world and it’s been demonstrated decisively in South Africa that they do work and you get remarkable recoveries of fish taking place inside these marine protected areas."
Some commercial fishing groups insist worldwide fish stocks are healthy and question the effectiveness of marine reserves. The point will be argued at the World Parks Congress in Durban this September, when some of Professor Branch’s colleagues will present a study about the success of marine protected areas.