A new review from an international team of scientists published in the prestigious journal Nature has concluded that Earth's oceans can be restored to the full glory as early as 2050.
Today, the world's oceans are under significant threat from overfishing, rising water temperatures due to climate change, and pollution from runoff from agriculture and industry worldwide. As a result, many fisheries are collapsing, threatening the economies and livelihoods of millions worldwide, especially many of the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities.
However, the review concluded that many marine conservation and restoration efforts over the last several decades have indeed been successful and can continue to be successful in the decades to come. The destruction of seagrass meadows and mangrove habitats have largely been stopped. Species such as humpback whales, sea otters, and gray seals are on the rise.
The team, led by scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, claims that while fully restoring ocean health would be a massive undertaking requiring billions of dollars of investments, the benefits of doing so – to fisheries, tourism, and other industries – would likely be 10 times the cost. However, climate change is the elephant in the room. If we do not find a way to curb global emissions, we will likely not be able to restore our oceans.
For me this story underscores one of the most important lessons of our time: Yes, today, humanity is doing great harm to the Earth and its many inhabitants and ecosystems. But Earth is also wildly resilient and regenerative. It can repair itself. If we can only commit to new ways of doing and being as a species, we can watch as the oceans, forests, endangered species, and more restore themselves, perhaps in our own lifetimes.
Will we do what is needed?