10 Spectacular Underwater Places Worth Protecting
The Pew Charitable Trusts commemorated World Oceans Day on June 8 by taking a look at some of most incredible ocean environments around the globe in dire need of protection.
The ocean plays an essential role in sustaining life on our planet. But human activity is increasingly threatening its health. In the past half-century, populations of large predatory fish, including some species of sharks, have declined by 90 percent or more. Eighty-seven percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted; 1 in 5 fish is caught illegally or in unreported fisheries.
Although the ocean makes up 72 percent of the Earth’s surface, less than 1 percent is protected.
But there is hope.
Research shows that large, fully protected marine reserves are key to rebuilding species abundance and diversity and protecting the overall health of our marine environment. Pew's Global Ocean Legacy team is working to create these great parks of the sea in some of the most biologically important places in the world. Here are 10 sites that need our help.
The Kermadec region, a remote and rarely visited area between New Zealand’s North Island and Tonga, includes some of the most geographically active and biologically unusual features on Earth. Extending in places to a depth of more than 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), the Kermadec-Tonga Trench is the deepest in the Southern Hemisphere and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon. The waters are teeming with birds, whales, dolphins, fish, turtles, and other unique sea creatures, many of which exist only there. It provides important habitat for deep-diving mammals such as sperm whales. Half of the known beaked whales—at least 10 species—are thought to inhabit the area, perhaps the world’s richest habitat for these rare and elusive animals.
Easter Island’s waters are said to be some of the most unique in the world. Located in the southern Pacific Ocean approximately 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) west of Chile, the area is a vitally important spawning ground for many species, including tunas, sharks, marlins and swordfish. There are 142 species found nowhere else on Earth and 27 threatened species are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, including the loggerhead turtle and blue whale and the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna.
On the surface, these mats of Sargassum are home to several bird species that roost on the seaweed. Below, more than 100 species of fish and 145 species of invertebrates rely on this seaweed for protection, breeding and food. The IUCN considers 36 species threatened, including the oceanic white tip shark and blue whale. And of the five species of turtles found here, two are considered endangered: the loggerhead and green turtles. The region is also an important breeding zone for millions of eels that travel thousands of miles from rivers in Europe and North American to reproduce within the Sargasso Sea.
New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the South Pacific Ocean, is home to an incredible array of marine life, including more than 1,700 fish and 473 coral species. The waters of the territory’s exclusive economic zone span 463,323 square miles (1.2 million square kilometers), within which lies one of the world’s largest lagoons.
9. Tristan da Cunha
The waters of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago are vast, covering an area about three times the size of the mainland of the United Kingdom. These waters are relatively unspoiled and are vitally important for fish species, birds, whales, and seals. A British overseas territory, the islands’ remote location in the South Atlantic Ocean means that a large number of species are found nowhere else on the planet. Tristan’s waters form the feeding ground not only for the Tristan and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross but also for the critically endangered spectacled petrel, whose population has diminished to just 10,000 breeding pairs, all living on the archipelago’s aptly named Inaccessible Island. Tristan’s islands are also home to 80 percent of the subantarctic fur seal population and to important populations of southern elephant seals. Nearly all of the world’s northern rockhopper penguins also live here.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a British overseas territory, are located more than 1,050 miles (2,700 kilometers) from the southern tip of South America in a remote expanse of the South Atlantic Ocean. Forming part of the Antarctic ecosystem, the rich waters are full of plankton and krill, which support one of the largest and most varied populations of seabirds and marine mammals on Earth. Overall, they have a higher diversity of species than the more temperate Galapagos Islands. The islands provide habitat for more than 4 million Antarctic fur seals—more than 95 percent of the world’s population—and more than half of the world’s southern elephant seals. Sperm, humpback, and other whale species are also frequently seen in the islands’ waters. There are also more than 100 million seabirds, including vast numbers of penguins, albatross, and petrels. Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands has more than 1 million chinstrap penguins, the largest colony in the world.