Fortunately, society is more concerned about the state of conservation of the environment due to human activities, both on land and at sea. In case there are still who think we do not need sea at all, this article aims to show what benefits gives us the sea.
WHICH ISSUES ARE AFFECTING THE SEA?
Did you know that some studies suggest that the entire surface of the seas and oceans of the Earth is hit by some human activity? In fact, 41% of the surface is affected by more than a factor of anthropogenic origin.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there are several anthropic impacts at sea:
- Ocean acidification.
- Coral bleaching [More information here].
- Chemical contamination.
- Global change [You can read about the effects of global change on plants, whales, corals, reptiles and the current sea level rise].
- Increase in toxic algae.
- Increased invasive species [Discover what is an invasive species!].
- Increase of jellyfish [If you want to know how are jellyfish and want to learn to identify the species of the Mediterranean, visit this article].
- Loss of biodiversity.
- Loss of habitats.
- Nutrient overload.
- Overexploitation of species with commercial interests.
- Dead zones.
Not only do they affect marine ecosystems, but also affects the human population because the ecosystem services promote our welfare. So we can ask: why do we need the sea?
WHICH BENEFITS DO WE OBTAIN FROM SEA?
According to TEEB, ecosystem services are all those direct and indirect ecosystem and biodiversity contributions to human welfare. These services are: supply services, cultural services and regulation services.
All those contributions of ecosystems that take place directly or indirectly to human welfare, whether they have a biological or geological origin, are part of supply services.
Foods that the sea provides is one of the most important supply services to humans, including fish, shellfish and algae. An example of this is the fact that supplies 20% of the animal protein intake to 3,000 million people and that more than 120 million tons of fish were consumed in 2010. For all this, the current situation of exploited populations is critical in many cases, as you can read in this article.
Sea is also a source of renewable energy because it is the source of many weather events (like wind) and tides and currents. Thus, sea provides wind energy and tidal power (generated by tides, currents and waves).
Another benefit that we get is different biotic or geologic materials, such as salts, ornamental materials and mineral resources. Without going into the details of the high environmental impact of extracting marine mineral resources, materials such as sand, diamonds, metals such as gold and tin, coal, gas hydrates, oil, gas and some others are exploited [can read more in this document of the International seabed Authority (ISA)].
In addition, we benefit from certain substances and organisms that have some beneficial property to humans, such as medicines and cosmetics.
Cultural services are those that are obtained through direct experience with ecosystems. Although they are not the most important, we must also taken into consideration.
Ecosystems help to the creation and maintenance of cultural identity and sense of belonging to a community. What would we be without our festivities and without the different types of food?
Marine ecosystems enable developing advocacy and awareness by sea. They also contribute to the increase of scientific knowledge through research of different types. If you’re a biologist, would you like to discover a new species?
It is also the basis for many recreational activities such as whale watching, diving, tourism, recreational fishing and navigation activities [Do you want to know if recreational fishing is compatible in marine reserves?].
Here we could talk about more services, but I focused on the most relevant.
Last but not least, marine ecosystems are responsible for the proper functioning of ecosystems as a whole. They are the most important services because from them depend all the rest.
In marine ecosystems, it occurs a set of processes by which they maintain or improve water and sediment quality. To give an example, they are involved in the oxygenation of dead zones and to absorb waste or pollutants.
But, certainly, it is important to highlight its key role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Earth’s oceans are the largest sink for greenhouse gases because they capture carbon dioxide away from the air and distributes it in depth. So, they help to fight against global change, but everything has its limit.
On countless occasions, we have seen beaches to disappear after a storm, a hurricane and other extreme events. Do you want to know the reason? The main reason is that due to human action, our coast has lost its protective function, ie, has lost the ability to buffer natural disturbances. In a healthy beach, after a storm, it would regenerate naturally. Well, when a beach disappears, then we have problems in promenades or houses built at first line of the coast.
Although we could explain some more benefits, I will finish by mentioning its importance in providing the necessary nutrients for marine organisms and habitat maintenance of biodiversity.
- FAO. (2012). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. FAO. Rome.
- Fernando Santos-Martín, Carlos Montes, Paloma Alcorlo, Susana García-Tiscar, Blanca González, María Rosario Vidal-Abarca, María Luisa Suárez, Laura Royo, Inmaculada Férriz, Juan Barragán, Juan Adolfo Chica, César López y Javier Benayas. 2015. La aproximación de los servicios de los ecosistemas aplicada a la gestión pesquera. Fondo Europeo de Pesca, Fundación Biodiversidad del Ministerio de Medio Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente. Madrid.
- Jackson, J.B., Kirby, M.X., Berger, W.H., Bjorndal, K.A., Botsford, L.W., Bourque, B.J., Bradbury, R.H., Cooke, R., Erlandson, J., Estes, J.A., et al. (2001). Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293, 629–637.
- MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). (2005). Ecosystem and Human Well-being. Island Press. Washington.
- Notes of the subject “Geología de los océanos” of the Master in Oceanography and Marine Environment Management (UB).
- TEEB. (2012). The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Business and Enterprise. Joshua Bishop (ed.). Earthscan, London and New York. Urquhart, J., Acott, T., Reed, M., Courtney, P. (2011). Setting an agenda for social science research in fisheries policy in Northern Europe. Fish. Res. 108,
- UNEP. (2006). Marine and coastal ecosystem and human well-being. A synthesis report based on the finding of the Millennium Ecosystem Assesment. UNEP.
- Main picture: Stilts fishhermen Sri Lanka (Bernard Gagnon, Creative Commons).