OCEAN OF LIFE: The Critical Role of Marine Biodiversity

 

Introduction: Earth’s Oceanic Dominance

We call our planet ‘Earth,’ but 71% of its surface is covered by ocean. [*] The ocean is one of the main repositories of the world’s biodiversity, constituting more than 95% of Earth’s living space. It contains about 250,000 known species, with many more yet to be discovered—at least two-thirds of the world’s marine species are still unidentified.

 The Ocean as the Largest Biome

With an average depth of 3,800 meters and 50% of its area below 3,000 meters, the ocean is the largest biome on Earth. It encompasses about 1 billion cubic kilometers of deep water and 326 million square kilometers of deep seafloor. The deep sea, starting at 200 meters depth where sunlight no longer supports photosynthesis, plays a critical role in maintaining our planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems. This immense body of water holds 97% of all Earth’s water and supports 80% of all life on the planet.

Current Threats to Marine Biodiversity

Despite its vastness, the ocean is not immune to human activities. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction are major threats to marine biodiversity. Plastic pollution alone affects at least 700 marine species, and rising ocean temperatures threaten coral reefs and other sensitive ecosystems.

Biodiversity and Sustainable Development

The importance of biodiversity for sustainable development is nowhere more essential than in the ocean. Marine biodiversity—the variety of life in the ocean and seas—is crucial for all three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. It supports the healthy functioning of the planet and provides services that underpin human health, well-being, and prosperity.

Vital Functions of Ocean Life

The ocean and its life forms are vital for the planet’s health, supplying half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbing about 26% of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year. Evidence continues to show the essential role of marine biodiversity in maintaining a healthy planet and social well-being. The fishery and aquaculture sectors provide income for hundreds of millions of people, especially in low-income families, and contribute directly and indirectly to food security. Marine ecosystems offer innumerable services to coastal communities around the world. For example, mangrove ecosystems not only provide food for over 210 million people but also offer livelihoods, clean water, forest products, and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

Scientific Discoveries and Innovations

Recent discoveries in marine biology, such as the identification of new species and the understanding of deep-sea ecosystems, have expanded our knowledge of the ocean. Innovations in conservation techniques, like marine protected areas (MPAs) and sustainable fishing practices, are helping to preserve marine biodiversity.

Marine Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Goals

The centrality of marine biodiversity to sustainable development is recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global leaders have highlighted the urgency of improving the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, particularly through SDG 14, which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development and emphasizes the strong linkages between marine biodiversity and broader sustainable development objectives.

Success Stories and Case Studies

There are successful examples of marine conservation efforts around the world. For instance, the recovery of fish populations in well-managed MPAs and the restoration of coral reefs through community-led initiatives demonstrate the positive impact of dedicated conservation work.

Challenges and the Way Forward

Despite its importance, only about 8% of the ocean is under some form of marine protection. According to the Marine Conservation Institute, less than 3% is considered “fully” or “highly” protected, and the effectiveness of conservation in these areas remains questionable. To achieve the SDGs, we must abandon business-as-usual approaches and mainstream biodiversity into our development planning, governance and decision-making. We need to mobilize resources to make the necessary on-the-ground changes. Additionally, stakeholders at all levels will need to be conscious of how their actions and behaviours affect the marine ecosystems on which we all depend, and make conscious decisions to improve our relationships with the ocean, which has given us so much throughout human history.

Join the Effort: Actions You Can Take for Ocean Conservation

We can all make a difference in marine conservation. Start by reducing your plastic use—opt for reusable bags, bottles, and straws. Choose sustainable seafood to support responsible fishing practices. Get involved in beach clean-ups to help keep our shores and waters clean. Advocate for stronger marine protection policies by raising awareness and supporting organizations dedicated to ocean conservation. Engage in efforts to protect marine habitats, such as fencing in free-roaming goats to prevent overgrazing of vegetation and soil erosion. Every action we take helps preserve the health of our oceans for future generations. Our efforts matter—together, we can protect our ocean’s rich biodiversity.

[*] Earthrise, December 24, 1968, photograph taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission

References

Published in The Bonaire Reporter issue 12, 2024, page 5

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