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Just 13 Percent of Ocean Is Wilderness: Study

An analysis of 15 types of stressors finds humans are heavily affecting most sea areas.

Jul 26, 2018
Shawna Williams

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Human-induced stressors such as fishing, agricultural runoff, commercial shipping, and invasive species affect most areas of the ocean, a study published today (July 26) in Current Biology finds. Its authors report that the mere 13 percent of ocean regions that constitute “marine wilderness” are largely located near the poles and in remote regions of the Pacific, and that less than 5 percent of the wilderness areas fall within protected zones.

“Studies have shown that places free from intense levels of human activity have really high levels of biodiversity and high genetic diversity [but] we didn’t have an idea of where across the globe these intact places could still be found,” study author Kendall Jones of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland in Australia tells BBC News.

To identify those places, the authors analyzed data from several sources to find out how different areas of the ocean are affected by different anthropogenic stressors. They defined wilderness as those regions that fell to the bottom 10 percent for experiencing the analyzed stressors both individually and cumulatively. 

In an opinion piece published today in Scientific American, Jones and coauthor James Watson, also of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland, call for policies that would protect more wilderness areas.

Rachel Hale of the University of Southampton in the UK tells the BBC, “Formal protection of these wilderness areas would not be able to protect them from some stressors such as climate change and invasive species. . . . We should prioritise conservation actions in at-risk and/or biologically important areas, and identifying these areas within the identified marine wilderness areas would be a positive next step.”

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