The three biggest threats to ocean reefs

The ocean is a major resource. It provides sustenance to 3 billion people through seafood, ensures economic stability and exists as a climate buffer against global warming. The ICUN  states that coastal regions sequester more carbon per unit than terrestrial forests. However, global warming, pollution and over-fishing are moving the ocean away from its natural state of balance, threatening the future of mankind.

Global Warming

Global temperature and ocean chemistry are shifting. Average global temperatures are rising, ice caps are melting, sea levels rising and oceans are becoming more acidic. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Climate change is intimately linked to the past 150 years where humans have emitted huge amounts of gases through the burning of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas levels are now higher than at any time over the past 800,000 years, causing the planets atmosphere to heat up – fast.

This change in ocean temperature and chemistry is causing mass coral bleaching events and species extinction. Around half of the worlds shallow water reefs have already been wiped out. Without urgent action to address ocean threats, all reefs could disappear.


Concerns over the environment grew after many years of dumping raw untreated sewage, industrial, chemical and even containers of radioactive waste into the sea. The London Convention of 1972 was one of the first international agreements to protect the marine environment from human activities. Today, pollutants still persist. Noise, chemicals and plastic all seep into and disrupt the marine environment.


Industrial scale fishing is depleting our ocean faster than it can recover. Large fishing vessels with onboard freezers and processors allow for huge hauls of fish to be taken at once. Today, 30% of the worlds fish stocks are overfished and even with regulations 11-26 million tonnes of fish is still caught illegally.

In 2017 a Chinese fishing vessel was caught with 300 tonnes of catch, mostly sharks illegally hauled from within the Galápagos marine reserve, one of the largest and most diverse protected areas. Recently, a huge fleet of over 260 Chinese fishing boats have been located just on the edge. As the mayor of Quito, Ecuador states “Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos”.

Marine protected areas are being set up to protect important ecosystems and provide sanctuaries for species to recover. But stronger efforts and management of MPA’s is essential for them to be effective. Otherwise they offer no more than piece of mind.

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