Marine conservation

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Coral reefs have a great amount of biodiversity.

Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.


Marine conservation is a response to biological issues such as extinction and habitat change.[1] Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography, and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems. Marine conservation can be seen as sub discipline of conservation biology.

Coral Reefs[edit]

Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection, and shelter which keep generations of species alive.[2] Furthermore, coral reefs are an integral part of sustaining human life through serving as a food source (i.e. fish, mollusks, etc.) as well as a marine space for eco-tourism which provides economic benefits.[3]

Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include "overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources."[4] This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, there are no pristine reefs anywhere in the world.[5] In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.[4]

This is especially harmful to island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia, and the Philippines because many people depend on the coral reef ecosystems to feed their families and to make a living. However, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem.[6] This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuating the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important.[7] Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.

Human Impact[edit]

The deterioration of coral reefs is mainly linked to human activities – 88% of coral reefs are threatened through various reasons as listed above, including excessive amounts of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions.[8] Oceans absorb approximately 1/3 of the CO2 produced by humans, which has detrimental effects on the marine environment.[9] The increasing levels of CO2 in oceans change the seawater chemistry by decreasing the level of pH. This process is also known as acidification. Acidification negatively affects the carbonate buffering system and drops the carbonate saturation by 30%, which results in a decrease in reef calcification.[10] Reductions in calcification have negative implications on calcifiers, such as corals and shellfish. Some examples include diminishing coral resilience from bleaching, decreasing organisms’ ability to fight off predators, inhibiting their potential to compete for food, and altering behavior patterns.[11] When the bottom of the food web declines tremendously due to acidification, the food web and the whole marine conservation effort is jeopardized. Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. Although the most widely known conservation tool is the MPA, one of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make in efforts to reduce CO2 emissions on a daily basis.


Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include developing sustainable fisheries and restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.

Another focus of conservationists is on curtailing human activities that are detrimental to either marine ecosystems or species through policy, techniques such as fishing quotas, like those set up by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, or laws such as those listed below. Recognizing the economics involved in human use of marine ecosystems is key, as is education of the public about conservation issues. This includes educating tourists that come to an area that might not be familiar of certain rules and regulations regarding the marine habitat. One example of this is a project called Green Fins that uses the SCUBA diving industry to educate the public based in SE Asia. This project, implemented by UNEP, encourages scuba diving operators to educate the public they teach to dive about the importance of marine conservation and encourage them to dive in an environmentally friendly manner that does not damage coral reefs or associated marine ecosystems.

Technology and Halfway Technology[edit]

Marine conservation technologies are devices used to protect endangered and threatened marine organisms and/or habitat. Marine conservation technologies are innovative and revolutionary because they reduce bycatch, increase the survivorship and health of marine life and habitat, and benefit fishermen who depend on the resources for profit. Examples of technologies include marine protected areas (MPAs), turtle excluder devices (TEDs), Autonomous recording unit, pop-up satellite archival tag, and radio-frequency identification (RFID). Commercial practicality plays in important role in the success of marine conservation because it is necessary to cater to the needs of fishermen while also protecting marine life.[12]

Pop-up satellite archival tag (PSAT or PAT) serve a vital role in marine conservation by providing marine biologists with an opportunity to study animals in their natural environments. They are used to track movements of (usually large, migratory) marine animals. A PSAT (also commonly referred to as a PAT tag) is an archival tag (or data logger) that is equipped with a means to transmit the collected data via satellite. Though the data are physically stored on the tag, its major advantage is that it does not have to be physically retrieved like an archival tag for the data to be available making it a viable, fishery independent tool for animal behavior studies. They have been used to track movements of ocean sunfish,[13] marlin, blue sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish and sea turtles. Location, depth, temperature, and body movement data are used to answer questions about migratory patterns, seasonal feeding movements, daily habits, and survival after catch and release, for examples.[14][15][16]

Another example, Turtle excluder devices (TEDs) remove a major threat to turtles in their marine environment. Many sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by fishing. In response to this threat the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)worked with the shrimp trawling industry to create the TEDs devices.[17] By working with the industry they insured the commercial viability of the devices. Basically, a TED is a series of bars that is placed at the top or bottom of a trawl net, fitting the bars into the "neck" of the shrimp trawl and acting as a filter to ensure that only small animals may pass through. The shrimp will be caught but larger animals such as marine turtles that become caught by the trawler will be rejected by the filter function of the bars.[18]

Similarly, halfway technologies work to increase the population of marine organisms, however, it does so without behavioral changes and "addresses the symptoms but not the cause of the declines". Examples of halfway technologies would include hatcheries and fish ladders.[19]

Laws and Treaties[edit]

International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.

In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: Marine planning, Marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation, and enforcement.

Organizations and Education[edit]

The shore of the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, California.

There are marine conservation organizations throughout the world that focus on funding conservation efforts, educating the public and stakeholders, and lobbying for conservation law and policy. Examples of these organizations are Oceana (non-profit group), the Marine Conservation Institute (United States), Blue Frontier Campaign (United States), Sea Shepherd Conservation Society [international], Frontier (the Society for Environmental Exploration) (United Kingdom), Marine Conservation Society (United Kingdom), Community Centred Conservation (C3), The Reef-World Foundation (United Kingdom), Reef Watch (India), and Australian Marine Conservation Society. Zoox (United Kingdom) is an example of an organisation that provides both marine conservation training and professional career development to volunteers who are also working on marine conservation projects such as Green Fins.

On a regional level, PERSGA- the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, is a regional entity serves as the secretariat for the Jeddah Convention-1982, one of the first regional marine agreements. PERSGA Member States are: Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Extinct and Endangered Species[edit]

Marine Mammals[edit]

Baleen whales were predominantly hunted from 1600 through the mid 1900s and were nearing extinction when a global ban on commercial whaling was put into effect in 1896 by the IWC (International Whaling Convention).[1][20] The Atlantic gray Whale, last sited in 1740, is now extinct due to European and Native American Whaling.[21][22] Since the 1960s the global population of Monk seals has been rapidly declining. The Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals are considered to be one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet according to the NOAA.[21] The last siting of the Caribbean monk seal was in 1952, it has now been confirmed extinct by the NOAA.[23][24] The Vaquita porpoise, discovered in 1958, has become the most endangered marine species. Over half the population has disappeared since 2012, leaving 100 left in 2014.[25][26] The Vaquita frequently drowns in fishing nets, which are used illegally in marine protected areas off the Gulf of Mexico.[27]

Sea Turtles[edit]

In 2004, The Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ran a Green Turtle Assessment that determined Green Turtles were globally endangered. Population decline in ocean basins over the last 100–150 years is indicated through data collected by the MTSG that analyzes abundance and historical information on the species. The data collected by MTSG examined the global population of the Green Turtles at 32 nesting sites. This data determined that over the last 100–150 years there has been a 48-65 percent decrease in the amount of mature nesting females.[28] The Kemp's ridley sea turtle population fell in 1947 when 33,000 nests, which accounted for 80 percent of the population, were collected and sold by villagers in Racho Nuevo, Mexico. In the early 1960s only 5,000 individuals were left and between 1978 and 1991 200 Kemp's ridley turtles nested annually. In 2015, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and National Geographic Magazine named the Kemp's ridley the most endangered sea turtle in the world with 1000 females nesting annually.[29]


In 2014, the IUCN moved the Pacific bluefin tuna from "least concerned" to "vulnerable" on a scale that represents level of extinction risk. The Pacific bluefin tuna is targeted by the fishing industry mainly for its use in sushi.[30] A stock assessment released in 2013 by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) shows that the Pacific bluefin tuna population dropped by 96 percent in the Pacific Ocean. According to the ISC assessment, 90 percent of the Pacific bluefin tuna caught are juveniles that have not reproduced.[31] Between the years 2011 and 2014, the European eel, Japanese eel, and American eel were put on the IUCN red list of endangered species.[32] In 2015, The Environmental Agency concluded that the number of European eels has declined by 95 percent since 1990. An Environmental Agency officer, Andy Don who has been researching eels for the past 20 years says, "There is no doubt that there is a crisis. People have been reporting catching a kilo of glass eels this year when they would expect to catch 40 kilos. We have got to do something."[33]

Marine Plants[edit]

Johnson’s seagrass, a food source for the endangered Green sea turtle, is the scarcest species in its genius. It reproduces asexually which limits it ability to populate and colonize habitats. Data on this species is limited but since the 1970s there has been a 50 percent decrease in abundance.[34]

History of Marine Conservation[edit]

Modern Marine conservation first became globally recognized in the 1970s after World War II in an era known as the marine revolution. The United States legislation showed its support of Marine conservation by institutionalizing protected areas, and creating marine estuaries. In the mid-1970s the United States formed the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the IUCN.[35] Through this program, different nations could communicate and make agreements surrounding the topic of Marine conservation. After the formation of the IUCN new independent organizations known as NGOs started to appear. These organizations were self-governed and had individual goals for Marine conservation. At the end of the 1970s undersea explorations equipped with new technology such as computers were undergone.[35] During these explorations, fundamental principles of change were discovered in relation to marine ecosystems. Through this discovery, the interdependent nature of the ocean was revealed. This discovery led to a change in the approach of marine conservation efforts and a new emphasis was put on restoring systems within the environment along with protecting biodiversity.[36]


Overabundance occurs when the population of a certain species cannot be controlled. A domination of a certain species can create an imbalance in an ecosystem, which can lead to the demise of other species and of the habitat.[1] Overabundance occurs predominately in invasive species.[37] Cargo ships introduce new species into different environments through releasing ballast water into an ecosystem. A tank of ballast water is estimated to contain around 3,000 non-native species.[38] The San Francisco Bay is one of the places in the world that is the most impacted by foreign and invasive species. According to the Baykeeper organization, 97 percent of the organisms in the San Francisco Bay have been compromised by the 240 invasive species that have been brought into the ecosystem.[39] Invasive species in the San Francisco Bay such as the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) have changed the food web of the ecosystem by depleting populations of native species such as plankton.[40][41] The Asian clam clogs pipes and obstructs the flow of water in electrical generating facilities. Their presence in the San Francisco Bay has cost the United States an estimated one billion dollars in damages.[42]



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Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, near the north pole.

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