Damage to the once pristine habitats of the deep oceans by pollution, litter and overfishing is running out of control, the United Nations warned yesterday. In a report that indicates that time is running out to save them, the UN said humankind's exploitation of the the deep seas and oceans was "rapidly passing the point of no return".
Last year some 85 million tonnes of wild fish were pulled from the global oceans, 100 million sharks and related species were butchered for their fins, some 250,000 turtles became tangled in fishing gear, and 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, were killed by illegal longline fishing.
Into the water in their place went three billion individual pieces of litter - about eight million a day - joining the 46,000 pieces of discarded plastic that currently float on every square mile of ocean and kill another million seabirds each year. The water temperature rose and its alkalinity fell - both the result of climate change. Coral barriers off Australia and Belize are dying and newly discovered reefs in the Atlantic have already been destroyed by bottom trawling.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN's environment programme, said: "Humankind's ability to exploit the deep oceans and high seas has accelerated rapidly over recent years. It is a pace of change that has outstripped our institutions and conservation efforts."
Mining, for example, could soon spread to the sea floor for the first time. The Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to dig for deposits of gold and copper off Papua New Guinea.
More than 90% of the world's living organisms are found in the oceans, but a new UN report says that researchers are only now beginning to understand the nature of their ecosystems."Today, these environments are considered to have been the very cradle for life on Earth."
Yesterday's warning from the UN came as officials and experts met in New York to discuss ways the international community could better police activities in international waters.
Mr Steiner said: "Well over 60% of the marine world and its rich biodiversity is found beyond the limits of national jurisdiction and is vulnerable and at increasing risk. Governments must urgently develop guidelines, rules and actions needed to bridge this gulf."
The UN says countries need to manage oceans along ecological boundaries rather than political borders. It says more research is needed to investigate the 90% of the oceans that remain unexplored. It also calls for greater protection for vulnerable species such as cod, marlin and swordfish, which have lost 90% of their global stocks over the last century.
Kristina Gjerde, high seas policy adviser with the International Conservation Union's global marine programme, who wrote the new report, said: "Once limited largely to shipping and open ocean fishing, commercial activities at sea are expanding rapidly and plunging ever deeper." She said the effects of climate change made conservation efforts more important.
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