Study: diversity of world’s undisturbed coastal marine life is increasing

In areas of coastline away from human disruption, coastal marine life is increasing its overall abundance and diversity. A new paper in the Elsevier journal Current Biology ($ paywall) examined…

“a new dataset of 471 diversity time series spanning from 1962 to 2015 from marine coastal ecosystems … We detected a predominant signal of increasing species richness in coastal systems since 1962”.

Only 3% of the examined sites had seen adverse human impact since 1962, and all sites were of course those being studied over time by marine scientists. So naturally they’re unrepresentative of the minority of coastlines along which there is intensive destructive human activity.

Nevertheless, the findings of a predominant increase seem to complement the overall increase in land vegetation and animal populations during roughly the same period. For instance, the WWF has found an animal population increase of around 10% overall in temperate developed nations. It now appears that the rich coastal fringes of the ocean are also seeing a similar strong and widely distributed increase. This has happened in the context of their being three times as many large vessels active on the ocean as there were in 1960, vessels which have boosted undersea noise, general disturbance and increased the number of invasive alien species.

The findings are encouraging but are not the whole story on the oceans. For instance, according to Jesse Ausubel’s Census of Marine Life (2000-) the deep ocean is still heavily over-fished, overwhelmingly so in the tropical regions. While the lamentable decline in global fish stocks more or less ended in 1988, and most edible fish species have since then been stable and increasingly well-managed, we generally could do much more. Especially at the local level in terms of preservation of mangroves, sea-grasses, reed-beds, corals and other water growths, and the ecosystems they support.

Ocean microplastics and their tiny colonies of microbial life are another clear worry, but for their potential wide-area effect on lower atmosphere cloud formation rather than for an alleged dangerous-chemicals-in-seafood connection along coastlines. Though it’s now far too late to stop that particular 250-year global geo-engineering experiment in isoprene production.

Picture: A seaweed forest off the coast of California.