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Ocean life could recover by 2050 with the right policies, study finds

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Depleted marine life across the world’s oceans could recover to healthy levels in just 30 years if major threats such as climate change are dealt with, a study has said.

Researchers from multiple universities studied the impact of successful conservation interventions around the globe and found that while human activity has had a deleterious impact on the oceans, marine life tends to bounce back from damage very quickly.

The oceans are an important source of food, water and clean energy and are key for tackling global warming as they store heat and carbon, but many marine species, habitats and ecosystems have suffered catastrophic declines.

One of the successful conservation projects highlighted by the project is the recent surge in numbers of humpback whales following the end of commercial hunting in the Southwest Atlantic which brought the species to the edge of extinction.

Steep losses were seen in marine biodiversity throughout the twentieth century, but population losses have slowed and in some places recovered in the last two decades.

Professor Callum Roberts from the University of York, who is co-author of the study, said: “The success of many marine conservation projects in recent years illustrates how we can make a real difference to life in our oceans if we apply the lessons learnt from them at scale and with urgency.

“Over-fishing and climate change are tightening their grip, but there is hope in the science of restoration. We now have the skills and expertise to be able to restore vital marine habitats such as oyster reefs, mangrove swamps and salt marshes - which keep our seas clean, our coasts protected and provide food to support entire ecosystems.”

“Science gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of our oceans, but we are not currently doing enough in the UK or globally.”

The researchers recommend the extensive deployment of conservation measures such as curbing hunting, better management of fisheries, regulating harmful pollutants, creating marine protected areas and restoring habitat such as seagrass, saltmarsh and mangroves.

But they say success largely depends upon the support of a committed, resilient global partnership of governments and a substantial commitment of financial resources. It is estimated it could cost an estimated $10-20bn (£8-£16bn) a year to extend protection efforts across 50 per cent of the oceans.

The study also states that the ecological, economic and social gains from rebuilding marine life will be far-reaching.

Lead author Dr Carlos Duarte, professor of marine science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said: “We have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren’s generation, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so.

“Failing to embrace this challenge, and in so doing condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high-quality livelihoods is not an option.”

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