Print | Back
Location of this document:

Welcome to the People & the Planet website. This provides a global gateway to the greatest issue of our time: the future health and wellbeing of the human family as it presses ever more heavily on the natural resources of our planet. Happy browsing in our 16 topic sections and Picture Gallery - and please send us your feedback.

End of the Line
Last updated: 30th June 2009

The release this month, on both sides of the Atlantic, of the film The End of the Line has stirred renewed public concern over the relentless plunder of the planet�s fish stocks � and has led some food chains and supermarkets to step up their efforts to source their fish products more carefully. (See: End of the Line). It has also coincided with a rash of international meetings and reports on the plight of whales (large and small), and of sharks and tuna species, some of which are already on the road to extinction.

Unfortunately the outcome of such meetings does not provide much hope that governments will get a grip on the problem. Those that have signed up to the international tuna treaty �have totally failed to come up with ways to cap fishing capacity� says WWF. Most are failing to follow the advice of their own scientists and making little progress in reducing illegal fishing and overfishing. (See: Efforts to save tuna fisheries so far a 'total failure'). The IWC meeting once again put off making any decisions to stop the growing slaughter of great whales, despite their nominal protection, while unprotected small whales are disappearing from the world�s oceans and waterways as they fall victim to fishing gear, pollution, and habitat loss.(See: Small whales rapidly disappearing from world's oceans). For sharks, there was no discussion, only an IUCN report revealing that a third of 64 species of open ocean sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, due primarily to overfishing. (See: A third of shark species threatened with extinction).

Elsewhere there are glimmers of hope. We report from Brazil on a new conservation area off the southern coast of Bahia state that will help protect one of the world�s most important coral reefs, and benefit thousands of people who depend on the nearby fisheries to make a living. (See: Brazil's biggest coral reef gets protective boost).

We also report on a study in New Zealand showing that investment in marine reserves could offset the projected economic costs of climate change on the coastal environment. Marine reserves already cover 5.4 per cent of that country�s territorial sea but, the report concludes, the cost of extending them would be minimal compared to the eventual benefits, allowing local communities to prepare themselves for the changes inflicted by larger forces including climate change and intensified human activity. (See: Marine reserves could offset costs of climate change).

But the scale of the danger to our oceans goes beyond commercial fishing, catastrophic though its collapse would be. As Don Hinrichsen sets out in his revised Overview on Coasts and Oceans, healthy oceans are essential to a healthy terrestrial environment. They are the heart of the hydrological cycle; they drive the world�s climate, provide a carbon sink, and are a super highway for cooling, heating and nourishing currents. The oceans also transport pollutants into every corner of the world and are now so overloaded with toxic waste that biologically dead zones are multiplying - with over 200 identified at the last count � from the Gulf of Mexico to the Baltic Sea. (See: Ocean planet in decline).

The difficulties involved in managing our coastal waters, with so many conflicting demands and agencies, are great, as are the resources needed to regulate what goes on in the vast expanses of the sea. But if our growing human population � mostly living within 400 kilometres of the seacoast - are to continue to benefit from the bounty of the sea, we will (in Hinrichsen�s words) �have to stop finding more ways of exploiting more and more species �and start preserving the source of all life on the blue planet.�

John Rowley