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 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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