For the first time ever, a comprehensive mapping of ocean wilderness has revealed that no part of the ocean is untouched by humans, and only 13 percent could be classified as “wilderness”.
The new survey was published in Current Biology which categorized and mapped all the ways humans have changed the ocean including fishing, shipping, and pollution to figure out how much of an impact humans have had on the ocean.
The study scored different marine areas according to intensity, number, and cumulative effect of the human impacts. From there, they built a map of the ocean and each geographic location’s status.
One of the most surprising finds of the study is that only 13 percent of the ocean can be categorized as wilderness. To be classified as such, the study defined the area as “mostly free of human disturbance”.
“To me it is depressing. Often you have a picture in your head of these wild places where people don’t really go, and actually that’s not the case, we go really everywhere now. There is not much of the ocean that remains as it once was,” said Kendall Jones, lead author and a conservation planning specialist at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The most heavily impacted areas are coastal areas which also happen to be the most productive for producing marine life as coral reefs, estuaries, and habitats for billions are destroyed due to human impact.
The counties that saw the most “wilderness” included New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. The study points to low human populations as the reason the ocean is left minimally unaffected in these areas.
The study found less than 5 percent of global marine wilderness is inside protected areas. About 7 percent of the total ocean is protected, regardless of wilderness status, and only a quarter of the world’s coral reefs are protected.
The scientists ran their analysis twice: once with climate change stressors and once without them. If they included the four defined climate stresses, it eliminated every place on the planet as wilderness. If climate change is included, the entire ocean is disturbed by people.
The authors goal for the survey is to get counties to better enforce existing fishing laws, minimizing ocean-based mining and run-off from land activities.