Industrialized Ocean Could Devastate Marine Life

There are clear signs that humans are beginning to damage oceans on an unprecedented scale, say scientists in new research.

Will ocean wildlife soon face the same pressure that led to the extinction of many land animals when the world industrialized?

A group of scientists fears the answer may be yes, writing in a paper just published in the journal Science.

The consortium of researchers said marine life could face the same pattern of extinctions that befell land-based wildlife in the 1800s, comparing the Industrial Revolution's inexhaustible consumption of land and resources to current human activity on the world's oceans.

The scientists said that while ocean life largely dodged that expansionary period's terrestrial species loss, because fishing was still performed in smaller areas of water closer to shore, these are different times.

"A lot has changed," said the study's lead author Douglas McCauley, in a release. "Our tackle box has industrialized," the professor in the University of California Santa Barbara's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology added.

The researchers drew parallels between early industrial days and threats faced today by ocean wildlife. "Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest," said co-author Steve Palumbi, of Stanford University.

Palumbi also likened modern-day claims staked on seafloor mining sites to the gold rush era, while Rutgers University ecologist and co-author Malin Pinsky added that climate change was also a concern going forward.

"All signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution," McCauley said. "We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land."

While the researchers said that to this point the oceans remain relatively healthy for wildlife, they suggested ideas on how to keep them that way. For example, they wrote, larger areas of the ocean could be declared off limits to fishing and industrial development. In tandem, they added, effective policies could be created that address ocean wildlife threats and damage in those areas between the protected waters.

A whaler ships rests in a port.