The first ever systematic analysis of the impacts of humans on our oceans has discovered that a maximum of just 13% can still truly be called ‘wilderness’ areas. The report from the University of Queensland, Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society has found that almost all of the areas that are still free from the damaging impacts of human beings are at the Poles and in the most remote parts of the Pacific Ocean.
These last wilderness areas are characterised by very high levels of biodiversity. They are largely free from disturbance caused by human activities. Such activities include fishing and shipping, but many of the problems are actually caused on the land, and include not only plastic pollution, but also chemical run-off caused by the use of agricultural fertilisers and chemical pollution as the result of poor controls on industrial production in some countries. Human-made climate change is also having an impact. For example, areas of the Arctic that in the 1970s were covered by ice are now able to be accessed by fishing fleets.
The researchers found that officially designated ‘Marine Protected Areas’ cover less than 5% of actual marine wilderness across the planet. The United Nations is currently considering making the conservation and sustainable use of international waters (areas of ocean outside those controlled by a particular country) a legal requirement. This new research has underlined the need for such a law, so that our last true ocean wilderness areas can be protected for the future.