Marine Life Could Recover By 2050 With the Right Policies, Study Finds

Manu San Felix, National Geographic / KAUST

Despite centuries of rampant overfishing and pollution, marine life in the world’s oceans could be fully restored in as little as 30 years with aggressive conservation policies, according to a new scientific review published in the journal Nature. The research pointed to ocean animals’ strong resiliency and the successful recovery of several species, including humpback whales.

In order to achieve this marine recovery, nations around the globe must agree to designate 20 to 30 percent of the oceans as marine protected areas, institute sustainable fishing guidelines, and regulate pollution. Overall, these measures would cost around $20 billion or more per year — but the economic return on this investment would be tenfold and create millions of new jobs, the study found. Rebuilding fish stocks and maintaining sustainable fishing policies could increase profits of the global seafood industry by $53 billion a year. Conserving coastal wetlands could save the insurance industry $52 billion a year in reduced storm damage, the study said.

Scientists did warn, however, that climate change, which is increasing ocean temperatures and driving acidification, must also be tackled if this restoration of marine life is to be successful.

“We are at a point where we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean,” Carlos Duarte, a marine biologists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and lead author of the new research, said in a statement. “We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren’s generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so. Failing to embrace this challenge — and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods — is not an option.”