Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

ocean1.jpg

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Why Don’t We Manage the Ocean Like We Manage Land?

• July 02, 2014 • 12:11 PM

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists are arguing for a radical new approach to marine planning in tropical coastal environments.

More than a fifth of humanity lives close to a tropical coastline, and those stretches of the world are rapidly unraveling and already descending into environmental calamity. Fisheries are crashing, ocean acidity levels are rising, development is proceeding seemingly unchecked, and pollution from the land is washing into the seas, killing coral reefs and fueling algae outbreaks.

In a paper published today in Marine Pollution Bulletin, two dozen researchers, including social scientists, fisheries authorities, and marine law experts, argue that current approaches to managing these coastal areas are broken. “Current management of coastal marine environments suffers from a piecemeal approach, failure to recognize connectivity among local habitat units including critical links with inland systems, weak governance, corruption, and persistence of deeply embedded belief systems that view the ocean as unlimited and open to all,” they write.

The 1.95 billion people living within 100 kilometers of a tropical coastline, up from 1.36 billion today, will be hungry, impoverished, and dangerously frustrated.

They suggest a new, alternative approach. Instead of creating ad-hoc marine protected areas, fisheries restrictions, and restoration projects, the experts urge the widespread adoption of “marine spatial planning.” That means planning that’s based on the type of land-use planning already common around the world. That means zoning some areas for fishing, some areas for marine protections, and some areas for aquaculture.

“We looked at current trends in climate and human population, both of which indicate that the stress on coastal water is only going to increase—it’s not going to decrease,” says marine ecologist Peter Sale, a professor at the United Nations University in Ontario and the lead author of the new paper. “Current management approaches are simply not working.”

The group combined the results of climate modeling, population forecasting, and data on the loss of coral reefs to paint a worrying picture of a swollen coastal populace in 2050. The 1.95 billion people living within 100 kilometers of a tropical coastline, up from 1.36 billion today, will be hungry, impoverished, and dangerously frustrated—unless approaches to managing tropical oceans are overhauled. Without such reforms, the researchers say they are “confident” of forecasting the following for 2050:

(1) Most coastal fisheries will be chronically overfished or collapsed.

(2) Loss of reef habitat will further reduce fisheries production and strain food security.

(3) Land-based pollution will increase to the extent that hypoxia and harmful algal blooms are routinely present.

(4) Pressures of coastal development will combine with sea level rise and more intense storms to further intrude on and erode natural coastlines, severely reducing mangrove, salt marsh and sea grass habitats.

(5) The cost of dealing with these impacts will further strain coastal economies, and the future for people on tropical coasts in 2050 will be substantially more bleak than at present.

The really “irritating” thing about it all, according to Sale, is that we have the technology to fix the problems. But it’s useless so long as non-governmental organizations and other funders support projects that run for only several years and national governments shy away from radical actions. “This is possible to tackle,” he says.

John Upton
John Upton is a science journalist with an ecology background. He has written recently for VICE, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, Grist, and Audubon magazine. He blogs at Wonk on the Wildlife. Upton's favorite eukaryotes are fungi, but he won't fault you for being human. Follow him on Twitter @johnupton.

More From John Upton

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.