The interaction between climate and oceans is altering, and the exchange is intensifying. As the climate responds to decades of increasing carbon emissions, the store of energy and heat from the atmosphere builds up in the ocean. If we reach a tipping point, we will likely see more extreme weather events, changing ocean currents, rising sea levels and temperatures, and melting of sea ice and ice sheets.
Every so often, it’s important to pause, take a step back, and celebrate the progress we’ve made together in conserving the world’s wildlife and beautiful places. And this year gave us much to applaud. Though our conservation challenges persist and there’s still much work to be done, we all need take a moment to appreciate just how far we’ve come by working in tandem to protect the planet we love.
In a landmark victory for the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian government passed a much-anticipated bill to ban dredge dumping in the World Heritage waters. This law closes for good a legal loophole that could have allowed 46 million cubic meters of seabed to be dug up and dumped in this fragile ecosystem.
The pressures driving desires to develop the Arctic are not unfamiliar to us. We see them in these other magnificent places. Expedited transportation routes. New fossil fuel reserves. Robust new fisheries. But we need to ensure that the push to exploit these resources does not overrun efforts to conserve them. We need to keep in mind some guiding principles.
Experts around the globe are collaborating to develop a recovery plan for polar bears. In the past year, a team of more than 30 polar bear experts—including WWF’s Elisabeth Kruger—put their heads together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to map out a path toward polar bear resiliency in the Arctic.
When you think about the impacts of climate change on the marine environment, your first thought might be the melting polar ice caps. Yet corals are among the most sensitive ecosystems to warming oceans and may be the most impacted by climate change in the near future.
The Obama Administration has cancelled the two potential Arctic offshore oil lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas that were threatening the future of this region. The newly cancelled leases were scheduled for 2016 and 2017 under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017, and the decision was made based on the poor “current market conditions and low industry interest.”
WWF is urging the US government to establish regulations, including the proposal of a national traceability program to track seafood from the point where it is caught to its entry into the US, under which all species of fish are eventually covered.
In another critical step to protect oceans and conserve marine ecosystems, President Obama announced the development of important new tools to combat the global threat of illegal fishing at the ‘Our Oceans’ conference in Valparaiso, Chile. A new global initiative will focus on fisheries enforcement at sea.
After years of searching for oil in the cold and turbulent waters of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, Royal Dutch Shell has abandoned its plans to drill for the “foreseeable future.” This announcement is the conclusion of weeks of summer exploration, where results of drilling to a depth of 6,800 feet indicated oil and gas findings were “not sufficient to warrant further exploration.”
WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report on the health of the ocean finds that the marine vertebrate population has declined by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. The report tracks 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile, and fish species through a marine living planet index. The evidence, analyzed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London, paints a troubling picture.
For another year, Arctic sea ice will cover much less of the Arctic Ocean than it used to. And with less ice comes more killer whales—predators that feed on other whales, including some recovering species.
Illegal activities on the ocean include breaking fishing laws, poaching, ignoring marine protected areas, and polluting. Such actions contaminate or destroy delicate marine habitats—including coral reefs or sea turtle nesting beaches—and they deplete fish populations, upsetting the entire marine food chain. Countless species of marine animals die when accidentally caught in fishing gear; many of these animals are already victims of illegal harvest and trade.
The US government has given approval to Royal Dutch Shell to conduct exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. WWF has long opposed drilling in this region, which is crucial for wildlife, fisheries and local people.
To better understand the post-release behavior of tagged green turtles, WWF and partners carefully fastened a GoPro—a tiny waterproof camera—to the back of a female sea turtle. The 15 minutes of footage the camera collected gives us a unique view of the Great Barrier Reef.
Swimming with sharks in Fiji is a conservation success; the communities that once harvested these sharks are now fully included in the dive venture, and continue to profit from the tourism they attract. Experiences like this reaffirm the work WWF is doing, advocating our efforts in moving the needle forward and making a lasting positive impact on the environment and people’s lives. It goes to show that we can learn from our experiences and become a wiser species.
A full ban on dumping in the Great Barrier Reef should come to fruition in a matter of months. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee has voted to maintain pressure on Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the health of the reef.
Illegal activities hurt our oceans, harming wildlife, people and ocean resources. We must use all the tools available to combat illegal activity. WWF identifies six essential components of a global strategy to fight illegality on the oceans.
WWF's Alison Cross reflects on her experience visiting Peru's only mahi mahi fishery. Fishers and their families rely on abundant fish stocks for their livelihoods. The fishers of Pucusana, government officials and others had finally recognized both the economic and environmental value of selling a sustainably sourced fish, with the long-term goal of achieving certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, an organization that recognizes sustainable fishing practices.
The economic value of marine ecosystem services to people and communities is expected to increase with the expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs), according to analysis of new research commissioned by WWF.
WWF today called on the U.S. government to prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling activities in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off of Alaska, and not to issue any new permits until companies demonstrate that they can drill safely in the region.