DATE: February 13, 2020
SNIP: Humanity has depended on the ocean for millennia. Today, however, the rush to the sea is occurring with unprecedented diversity and intensity, propelled by population growth and demand for diminishing terrestrial resources.
A study published in January in the new journal One Earth analyzed 50 years of data on 18 kinds of marine resource claims, broadly grouped as food, material and space. The authors, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, captured the results in a series of graphs showing the amount of activity since 1970 in areas such as marine aquaculture, shipping, deep hydrocarbons, and offshore windfarms. The graphs all show sharp upticks in the past 20 to 30 years.
The authors call this race for the sea the “blue acceleration.”
“The current narrative is that we are about to move into the ocean as the new frontier,” lead author Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, a Ph.D. candidate in sustainability science, told Mongabay. “However, when you look at the graphs, it has started already.”
Jouffray said he and his team are concerned about the increase in human activity in the oceans. They warn that the current approach could fundamentally alter the ecology not only of the oceans but of the global environment. “[Humanity hopes] the ocean will solve our need for food, freshwater, minerals, and will be the medicine chest for the future, but central to the blue acceleration is the idea that the ocean is not limitless,” he said.
Moreover, the current scale of activity in the oceans prioritizes the exploitation of ocean resources above scientific exploration, to the detriment of marine ecosystem health, Jouffray said.
Although some claims may complement each other, most will overlap and compete, creating potential conflict, he said.
The authors argue that in recent years a significant geopolitical evolution has taken the form of a “seabed grab.” The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea permits coastal countries to claim an extended area of continental shelf beyond the limit of their exclusive economic zones, which end 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from shore.
To date, 83 countries have at least initiated claims to a total of 37 million square kilometers (14.3 million square miles) of seafloor, an area more than twice the size of Russia. In fact, the paper reports, the combined “seabed grabs” since 2001 are almost 80 times larger than reported “land grabs” since 2000.