Oceans are Hurting: Thanks, Humans

Warmer shades indicate ocean areas most impacted by human activity. (Map courtesy of NOAA.)Most of Earth might be covered with water, but the large population of bipedal animals that crowd the planet’s land masses is doing its best to leave its imprint on the oceans as well.

A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds that humans have had a heavy impact on more than 40 percent of the world’s oceans. That’s an area of more than 55 million square miles, or more than 144 million square kilometers.

NOAA researchers combined data from about 17 different human activities — including fishing, fertilizer runoff, shipping and pollution — to generate a global map on how those factors are affecting the oceans.

The marine regions suffering the most include the East Coast of North America, the North Sea, the South and East China seas, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Bering Sea and parts of the western Pacific. So far, the polar seas remain the least impacted (give climate change a little more time, though, and that could soon no longer be the case).

“The extent of human influence was probably more than any of us expected,” said Kenneth Casey, a co-author of the study, which will be published in tomorrow’s (Feb. 15) issue of Science.

In those areas, the ecosytems facing the greatest threats are coral reefs and seagrass beds, both of which are critical habitats or nursey grounds for fish, as well as coastal mangroves.

Maybe this latest study will help further weaken one of the arguments used by climate change deniers, the one that says humans are too puny to wreak large-scale damage to a planet the size of Earth. Puny, yes, but damaging? Without a doubt.

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