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February 14, 2008
Spanish hogfish at coral reef.
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More than 40 percent of the world’s oceans are heavily impacted by human activities, including overfishing and pollution, according to a new study that will appear in tomorrow’s peer-reviewed journal Science.
Dr. Kenneth Casey, with NOAA’s National Oceanographic Data Center in Silver Spring, Md., and co-author of the study “A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems,” joined a team of researchers that combined 17 data sets of different human activities – from fishing and fertilizer run-off, to commercial shipping and pollution – and analyzed their effects on marine ecosystems, continental shelves and the deep ocean.
The results, highlighted on a map, revealed the most heavily affected waters include the East Coast of North America, North Sea, South and East China Seas, Caribbean Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Bering Sea and areas off the western Pacific Ocean. Least affected areas are near the poles.
Casey said three measures of human-induced climate change were examined by the research team, including changes in sea surface temperatures, UV radiation, and ocean acidification. These measures were found to be among the most important factors in determining the global impacts.
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“The extent of human influence was probably more than any of us expected,” said Casey, explaining that red areas on the map indicate the most heavily impacted regions. He added the study and map – designed to visually highlight the trouble spots in the oceans – are tools for the world’s decision-makers to assess the real impact of human activities on marine ecosystems and help identify ways to lessen the threats.
According to the study, the ecosystems most at threat are: coral reefs, which house more than 25 percent of all marine life and protect against wave erosion; seagrass beds, which are nursery grounds for young fish and mangroves, which grow in coastal habitats and also help ward off erosion.
“This project allows us to finally start seeing the big picture of how humans are affecting the oceans,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ben Halpern of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California – Santa Barbara.
NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and National Oceanographic Data Center worked with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to contribute data on changes in extreme sea surface temperature anomalies to the project.
Casey said the study established the framework for routinely assessing the state of marine ecosystems in the future. “As we compile more and better data, they can be fed back into the study to see where things stand.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.