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Enric Sala And The Power Of Conservation

Oppdatert: 24. apr. 2020

I first came across National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala on Youtube a few years ago. In a persuasive 2010 TED talk, he lays out the power and potential of marine conservation.

Enric Sala TED talks
Enric Sala - Pristine Seas

He shows how pristine reef systems harbor an astounding array of biodiversity and how the distribution of ocean creatures in different stages in the food chain varies greatly depending on the degree of human interference. In places where humans have been present the ratio between small fish and larger predators are disrupted, and Sala shows how this imbalance negatively affects the overall health of the biological system.

Most places in the ocean are now affected to a varying degree by human presence and the last few remaining pristine ecosystems are few and far between. The condition of many marine ecosystems are bleak, and Sala shows us images of brutal degradation. But he also has a positive message and presents empirical data that shows how marine ecosystems have a remarkable ability to recover from the devastation caused by overfishing and other human endeavors. As a powerful example just take a look at the case of Cabo Pulmo near the southern tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula. In the 1990s the place had become an ocean desert after years of unsustainable fishing practices. The local community decided to take action and managed to establish a natural protected area in collaboration with the government. After implementing a strictly enforced "no-take" restriction policy and enforcing this over time the results are simply magnificent. From 1999 to 2009 the biomass inside the protected area increased more than 460 percent. The local fishermen turned to scuba diving tourism and continued to fish outside the boundaries of the protected area where the newfound abundance of fish spilled over into outside waters. The results of these efforts are almost miraculous to both marine life and the local economy.

With his National Geographic Pristine Seas project, Enric Sala travels all over the world to gather information about marine ecosystems and work with governments and NGOs to promote marine conservation. As I have followed the Pristine Seas project I've seen great things happen. Several marine protected areas have been established as a result of the teams' efforts, including some of the world’s largest ocean reserves. Several more marine protected areas are on the horizon, including what will be the largest marine conservation area in the Atlantic, around Ascension Island.

But there is still work to be done. In a 2018 TED talk Enric Sala turns his attention to the high seas. The international waters are poorly regulated and some of the most destructive fishing practices on the planet happens there. To make matters even worse, these practices are heavily subsidized by certain governments allowing the madness to continue. Sala urges the international community to take action and shows how the protection of the high seas could be beneficial to boosting fisheries across the world if vast marine areas are allowed to replenish, causing a large scale spillover effect much like the one that saved the Cabo Pulmo fisheries. The potential is enormous, for both economic and ecological reasons.

Research tells us that more marine conservation is needed to protect the planet from the dangers of global warming and to help restore ecosystems that have already collapsed. We need a healthy ocean to survive. It produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide. Protected ocean areas are resilient and produce surpluses that can be sustainably harvested. The data is quite clear, and as Enric Sala says, this is not rocket science. Leaving much more of the ocean alone will produce befits so obvious that it will be madness not to support it. Yet only 7 percent of the ocean is currently under some form of protection, and Enric Salas goal is to reach 30 percent within 2030. This requires a paradigm shift and lots of powerful economic interests will undoubtedly resist such plans with all their might. Therefore we must support this mission and aid true heroes of the environment in their struggle against shortsightedness and economic self-interest.

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