Oceans make up our biggest ecosystem, covering over 70 per cent of our planet. They provide many millions of people with food and livelihoods, buffer coastal communities against storms and the impacts of climate change, and produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. The seas are also home to a huge array of life, from deep-diving giants such as sperm whales, to the incredible diversity of tropical coral reefs, to sailfish with top speeds of 70 mph. Even in the depths of the ocean, life exists but we know more about the Moon than about these places.
Diverse pressures combine to threaten marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. Land-based pollution, combined with climate change, is causing chemical alterations similar to those associated with Earth’s last mass extinctions. Open seas are strewn with garbage patches that suffocate, poison and weaken anything that comes into contact with them. Meanwhile, the deep seas are losing some of the planet’s oldest habitats to destructive practices such as bottom-trawling, and risk losing yet more to seabed mining. Over-fishing has left many fisheries at risk of collapse, particularly small-scale coastal fisheries upon which the majority of the world’s poorest people depend. Many fishing practices also unintentionally kill non-target species.
These threats, combined, mean that an estimated one in five marine species face extinction including over 80 per cent of sea turtles, over a third of mammals, a third of corals and a quarter of seabirds. Populations of many large predators have declined by 90 per cent in the past half-century alone.
The world’s coastal ecosystems are also in a critical condition. Having shrunk by half since the 1980s, up to 75 per cent of coral reefs are now threatened. Their degradation, combined with the loss of seagrasses and mangroves and increased nutrient run-off from land, has resulted in toxic ‘dead zones’ and disease-spreading algal blooms in coastal waters. These trends have knock-on effects for terrestrial life, particularly in terms of resilience of human and other species populations to extreme weather and rising sea levels.
We support groups working across three themes to try and reverse some of these negative trends impacting our oceans: Putting conservation at the heart of fishery management; Campaigning to end destructive practices in the deep and high seas; and Reducing and preventing bycatch. To date we have supported partners in Africa, Southeast Asia, Melanesia and Micronesia. We have also supported partners working on international policies and initiatives.