Climate Change Taking Toll on the Ocean

A United Nations panel released its latest assessment of the impact of climate change on the world's environment, focusing on issues such as food supply and economic security. The ocean, which covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface, is at the epicenter of many of the problems brought on by climate change.

“Even before this report came out, we knew we were draining the ocean of life,” said Karen Sack, senior director for international oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts, referring to the new work released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“The IPCC report raises further alarm about how climate change is speeding up the degradation of increasingly fragile marine ecosystems. World leaders must act now to implement solutions we know exist, to problems that we are certain can be reversed, by ending overfishing and establishing very large, fully protected marine reserves.”

The release of the panel's Fifth Assessment Report comes as country delegates convene in New York City for U.N. meetings that include talks on sustainable development goals and the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, or the high seas.

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consists of climate experts from member nations.  The panel and former Vice President Al Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to analyze and explain the risks of climate change and to lay out possible steps to stem it.

“Science is the foundation of smart environmental policy, and science continues to sound the alarm that the world's changing climate is killing coral reefs, drastically redistributing fisheries, and creating more and more food and economic insecurity,” Sack said. “This week provides an opportunity for world leaders to come together and agree to open negotiations for an international instrument to protect high seas biodiversity. The time is also ripe for U.N. members to support a stand-alone sustainable development goal on the ocean.”

“No matter which corner of the world we call home, our health is directly connected to the ocean's health. From the air we breathe to the food we eat to the trade our economies depend on—the ocean is critical to all of it. Our failure to protect this lifeline when practical solutions exist will only lead to greater environmental, economic, and social crisis,” Sack added.

Pew's international oceans work includes efforts to support marine scientists and research to better understand the impact of climate change on our ocean. It also includes campaigns to restore fisheries, eliminate illegal fishing, create very large, fully protected marine areas, and improve governance. Learn more by clicking on the links below:

Global Shark Conservation

Sharks have roamed the ocean since before the time of dinosaurs, but their long reign at the top of the ocean food chain may be ending. The onset of industrial fishing 60 years ago has dramatically depleted their populations. Of the shark and ray species assessed by scientists for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 30 percent are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction. Read more.

Global Tuna Conservation

Around the world, overfishing and destructive fishing practices endanger not only the health of fish stocks, but also the livelihoods of approximately 450 million people—and the food security of some 3 billion people. The huge demand for tuna—as a popular ingredient in sushi, as steaks, and as mass-produced, affordable canned fish across much of Europe, Asia, and the United States—has resulted in overfishing and mismanagement of many tuna species. Read more.

Ending Overfishing in Northwestern Europe

The European Union has agreed to a new conservation-oriented Common Fisheries Policy that includes legally binding targets to end overfishing and significantly reduce discards in its waters by 2020. The policy formally took effect in January. Pew is focusing on the effective implementation of the new policy in Europe's northwestern waters. We also are working to secure an EU regulation to protect valuable deep-sea ocean habitat. Read more.

Ending Illegal Fishing

Fleets now pursue and catch fish in virtually every part of the ocean. Massive factory vessels that process, freeze, and transport fish in huge quantities allow catch to be offloaded at sea and continue fishing with alarmingly little downtime. The result is what some call “the last buffalo hunt”—too many fishing vessels chasing a dwindling number of fish that have nowhere to hide. Read more.

Global Penguin Conservation

Over millions of years, penguins have adapted to terrain stretching from the icy waters of the Southern Ocean to the tropical climate of the Galapagos Islands. But now they are facing their biggest challenge: interference from people. Read more.

Global Ocean Legacy

Global Ocean Legacy, a project of Pew and its partners, is working to establish the world's first generation of great marine parks to protect and conserve some of our most important and unspoiled ocean environments.  We are partnering with local communities, governments and scientists around the world to secure a network of large, highly protected reserves.  To date, our efforts have helped to double the amount of safeguarded ocean habitat worldwide. Read more.

Oceans North: Protecting Life in the Arctic

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, fundamentally altering human communities and natural systems. Retreating sea ice is not only restructuring Arctic ecosystems, it is also permitting new industrial access for commercial fishing, offshore energy, and commercial shipping on a scale never seen before. Read more.

Protecting Ocean Life on the High Seas

These areas beyond national jurisdiction are rich in resources but scarce in oversight. A patchwork of rules and regulations provides little in the way of conservation safeguards to protect the greater marine ecosystem from growing commercial activities such as fishing, oil and gas exploration, and deep-sea mining. Read more.

Protecting the Deep Sea

Although we once thought the deep sea to be barren, scientists now understand that it is teeming with life, including many species found nowhere else. Scientists estimate that as many as 10 million species inhabit the deep sea, biodiversity comparable to the world's richest tropical rain forests. Read more.

America’s Overdose Crisis
America’s Overdose Crisis

America’s Overdose Crisis

Sign up for our five-email course explaining the overdose crisis in America, the state of treatment access, and ways to improve care

Sign up
Quick View

America’s Overdose Crisis

Sign up for our five-email course explaining the overdose crisis in America, the state of treatment access, and ways to improve care

Sign up
Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.