Marine map highlights human impact

Few corners of the world's oceans are now untouched by humans and 40% of the marine world has been heavily affected by activities such as fishing, climate change and pollution, according to researchers.

Scientists from the California-based National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) have produced a colour-coded map of the toll that humans have taken on the seas.

The work, published in the journal Science, identified the most heavily affected waters in the world, which include large areas of the North Sea, the South and East China Seas, the Carribean Sea, the east coast of the US, and the Red Sea.

The study, believed to be the first global-scale study of its kind, found the least affected areas are largely near the north and south poles.

Coral reefs, seagrass beds and rocky reefs are among the most heavily affected ecosystems, while the least impacted include open-ocean surface waters.

The scientists involved in the project said they hoped the map would serve as a wake-up call to better manage and protect the oceans.

“This project allows us to finally start to see the big picture of how humans are affecting the oceans,” said lead scientist Ben Halpern of NCEAS.

“Our results show that when these and other individual impacts are summed up, the big picture looks much worse than I imagine most people expected. It was certainly a surprise to me.”

They added that more work needed to be done to complete the maps, as many human activities are poorly studied or lack good data.

Seas around the UK, including the North Sea and the Channel, were among the most heavily affected areas designated by the colour red on the map.

Melissa Moore, senior policy officer for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Urgent action must be taken by Government to achieve a more effective balance between use and protection.

“This study is an internationally embarrassing wake up call for the UK to properly manage its seas.”

She urged ministers to include strong and effective conservation measures in the forthcoming UK Marine Bill and Marine Bill for Scotland.

Last year, UK scientists said the oceans could provide the cure to man-made climate change.

Kate Martin

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