In the third instalment of our World Ocean series, we delve into the wonderful world of biodiversity – the way that nature uses variety to maintain balance and help life on Earth thrive.
Words by Natalie Fox | 25th June '21
Everything in the biological world interacts with each other on some sort of level, whether it’s animals, plants, fungi, or even microorganisms like bacteria.
All of these living beings are necessary in the intricate web of food that keep life cycles turning but also the exceptional biodiversity seen in the natural world ensures that life is able to continually evolve and adapt to the environment on this planet. And all of this is taking part in small ecosystems such as your local wildflower meadow and huge global ecosystems like the ocean.
However, according to WWF:
“As humans put increasing pressure on the planet, we risk upsetting the balance of ecosystems and losing biodiversity. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report found an average 60% decline in global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians since 1970. The 2019 landmark Global Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reported one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction – the highest number in human history.”
With these worrying figures, it’s high time we paid attention to the biodiversity crisis, and put effort into protecting species, habitats and whole ecosystems from extinction – before it’s too late.
For a more in depth run down on biodiversity, check out our friends at Mossy Earth. They are investing in rewilding and habitat restoration on land in order to support biodiversity through conservation measures. From planting native Aspen trees in Scotland to removing toxic waste from The Dinaric Arc cave system in Croatia (home to a blind salamander classified as vulnerable to extinction), the Mossy Earth team take direct action to preserve those habitats and species most at risk as well as implementing strategies to increase the biodiversity of the areas they work in.
Another habitat struggling due to human induced threats is the one we spend most of our time in at Soul & Surf: the ocean. The ocean is vast, dynamic and complex – and its diversity adds to the problem of humans not understanding what we’ve done wrong and what we need to do right, to make sure it stays healthy and full of life.
One incredible woman who has dedicated her entire life to protecting the biodiversity of the ocean is Dr Sylvia Earle. Dr. Earle is a living legend when it comes to marine conservation and biology, affectionately known as “Her Deepness”. Her strength, stamina and expertise when it comes to diving is nothing short of astounding – setting the record for diving to 1000 meters depth in 2012. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998, was the female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998.
Just this week, The Guardian released an interview with Dr. Earle who proclaimed “it is not too late to reverse human-made damage to oceans and preserve biodiversity”
Dr. Earle launched Mission Blue in 2009 and has since been working to create ‘Hope Spots’ across the globe: special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. Hope Spots are championed by local conservationists, who are supported by Mission Blue’s communications, expeditions and scientific advisory; as of June 2021 there were 144 across the planet.
By uniting a global coalition to inspire public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas, Mission Blue is working towards the target of 30% of the ocean protected by 2030 – a collective target which is also being driven by the United Nations and something we, at Soul & Surf, are fully on board with.
“While about 12 percent of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks etc.), less than six percent of the ocean is protected in any way. Hope Spots allow us to plan for the future and look beyond current marine protected areas (MPAs), which are like national parks on land where exploitative uses like fishing and deep sea mining are restricted.” Mission Blue
If you haven’t seen the documentary Mission Blue yet, we highly recommend (especially as its still screening on Netflix) but go find out more about the crucial work Mission Blue and Dr. Earle carry out too.
Whilst Dr. Earle’s Mission Blue focuses on whole areas of coastline and ocean to maintain, conserve and manage – other organisations work with specific ocean habitats that are under threat. Here are just three:
Seagrass meadows are highly delicate underwater grasslike environments within coastal areas and yet Project Seagrass estimates that “we lose an area of seagrass around the same size as two football pitches every hour”.
Protecting what is left is vital and Project Seagrass has joined forces with Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Researchers at the University of Cardiff and University of Swansea to begin the biggest Seagrass restoration project of our time in the UK. Starting off by planting 2 hectares in West Wales, over the coming years they also aim to inspire future major projects in other areas to restore the UK’s seagrass meadows and help support our climate, our fisheries and our coastal livelihoods.
Sea Trees are a group of surfers and conservationists from California who know the true value of marine habitats – priceless. So far they have planted and protected 900km of Mangroves and 200km of Kelp, working with communities in Africa, Asia, Indonesia and the US. Mangroves are trees rooted in estuaries and tropical marsh lands, whilst Kelp is long, brown algae (seaweed) that prefers cold water climes. These saltwater plants are not only vital vegetation, food and fish nurseries but they also sequester (suck in) carbon from the atmosphere, helping to regulate the increase of CO2 existing in our industrial age.
Plant your very own Mangrove tree or Kelp >
We looked at the impact rising CO2 levels are having on the ocean in our last article on ocean acidification – and it’s not good. Dying coral reef ecosystems are a terrifying effect of the climate crisis, one that scientists are struggling to understand and prevent. Yet a group of young activists on the Pacific Island of Moorea decided to take matters into their own hands – literally – and plan to plant 1 million new corals by 2025. Their project started small, and only recently in 2017, but their community spirit and entrepreneurial skills have meant that now more than 21,000 corals have been planted and adopted!
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that one of the biggest threats to the ocean is the issue of overfishing, as it directly targets species in the delicate marine food chain. Fish stocks have been collapsing since we learnt how to increase our catch beyond the oceans means and whilst we might not want to give up consuming fish, being more aware of the devastating effects industrialised fishing has, and continues to have on ocean ecosystems is highly important.
Learning how to conserve, rather than exploit is part of Blue Marine Foundation’s mission and they are also working towards bringing 30% of the world’s ocean under effective protection by 2030. However, they are also developing models of sustainable fishing so that humans can continue to engage with the blue economy (utilising ocean resources like fish) and make sure the other 70% is managed in a responsible way.
For our last journal piece in the World Ocean – Ocean Wave series we’ll be looking at the specific issues affecting surfing ecosystems and how we, as surfers, can help establish their importance within the wider ocean conservation world, in order that they receive the conservation they need. Stay tuned!
Other posts in the series