Ocean life is sitting on an extinction cliff.
An industrial revolution is beginning in the ocean, with parallels to the industrial revolutions that have taken place on land. This involves a rapid expansion of marine industries such as ocean farming, marine energy, and marine transport - and a nearly five-fold increase in the amount of ocean area being explored for deep sea mining. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, by May 2018 the International Seabed Authority had issued 29 contracts for the exploration of deep-sea mineral deposits, and more than 1.5 million square kilometres of international seabed (about the size of Mongolia) had been set aside for mineral exploration in the Pacific and Indian oceans and along the mid-Atlantic ridge.
Mining in international waters is expected to begin in 2025, according to the IUCN. On land, animal extinction rates began accelerating rapidly during the first two industrial revolutions, when there was much less awareness of the link between human health and the environment.
Now, the ocean presents an opportunity to intelligently move a marine industrial revolution forward without associated spikes in animal extinction that compromise nourishing resources.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 17 ocean animal extinctions have occurred in the past 500 years (during the same period, more than 500 land animal extinctions have occurred due to human activity). A report published in the journal Science projected that rates of extinction in the ocean could increase dramatically, however - particularly as climate change accelerates.
As far as life on land is concerned, we are undergoing what scientists have dubbed the “Sixth Mass Extinction” - as human-caused extinction rates approach levels last experienced during the era that saw the end of many dinosaur lineages. The situation in the ocean is a bit brighter, at least for the moment.
Ocean animals that are under threat include Monk Seals (both the Hawaiian monk seal and the Mediterranean monk seal), Blue Whales (which were depleted in the early 1900s), and all six species of sea turtle found in US waters. Without a change to business as usual in ocean management, we may soon initiate an additional Sixth Mass Extinction in the ocean.