What the future holds

The big question raised by the Census of Marine Life is, "What next?"...
13 October 2010

Interview with 

Paul Snelgrove, Boris Worm, Enric Sala

Now that the landmark, decade-long Census of Marine Life has drawn to a conclusion, the big question is "What next?" both for the census and for the oceans themselves. We hear again from three key scientists involved with the Census to get their thoughts on what the future holds.

Cirrate octopus

Paul - I think one of the key things we've done with the Census is to identify some of the key unknowns. And perhaps equally as importantly, Nancy Knowlton my colleague, used the analogy of flashlights in a dark house. So we have flashlights now where we've looked around a lot of the house and we know where many things are but we haven't really turned on the lights yet. 

But with these technologies we really have the capacity to move forward on that ground. And again we know what some of the key gaps are. And so we can move forward. But, I would say that many of us need to catch our breath and so we need to digest what we have and then plan how to move forward because there is still lots of discovery ahead.

Boris - How will the future look like? It will be different. It will be different from what we have collectively documented and detailed in the first Census of Marine Life. This will be a baseline against which rapid future change will be measured. 

There's two scenarios that I'd like to contrast. One is a world, or a place where the intensity of fishing, the spread of habitat destruction and the velocity of climate change is increasing the rate of biodiversity los that we are already observing today. Where this will happen we will see a reduction in biodiversity along with the services that this biodiversity provides such as our food supply, water quality, and other economic opportunities that we still have to discover. 

On the other side, where we're investing with a concerted effort into rebuilding and managing measures that allow biodiversity to flourish again, for example in protected areas or through wise fisheries management we do see biodiversity increase again and with it the services it provides. 

So this is not a scientist's pipedream. This is something we have already documented happening as far back as a hundred years ago but also today at an increasing pace we are trying to take care of what is left and rebuild what we have lost.

Enric - I define myself as an angry optimist. If I weren't optimistic, I couldn't do what I do. There are bright spots there that we can replicate. There are marine protected areas that we set aside, where marine life comes back and then the fish reproduce and replenish nearby areas, helping fisheries, bringing dollars to the local economy through tourism.  Most of the species are still there, some are in very low numbers, but they are still there so we still have a chance. 


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