16 Sept 2015


Nearly half of the world’s marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have been lost in a single generation with frightening implications for human welfare and food security, according to a special emergency edition of WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report released today.

The report by WWF and the Royal Zoological Society of London finds that marine vertebrate populations have declined by 49 per cent between 1970 and 2012, with some fish declining by close to 75 per cent.

The analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, making the data sets almost twice as large as past studies and giving a clearer, more troubling picture of ocean health.

“In the space of just one generation, human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.

Commercial fish stocks at risk

Research in the report indicates that species essential to commercial and subsistence fishing – and therefore global food supply – may be suffering the greatest declines. Underscoring the severe drop in commercial fish stocks, the report details a 74 per cent decline in fish populations belonging to the family that includes tunas, mackerels and bonitos.

“The world is in a race to catch fish that could end with people starved of a vital food source and an essential economic engine. Overfishing, destruction of marine habitats and climate change have dire consequences for the entire human population, with the poorest communities that rely on the sea getting hit fastest and hardest,” Mr O’Gorman said.

The report comes as world leaders prepare to meet at the United Nations in New York later this month to adopt a bold new global plan to tackle extreme poverty, inequality, human rights and food insecurity, all while protecting the environment. 

“To reverse the downward trend, world leaders must prioritise the health of ocean and coastal habitats in the implementation of the UN’s Global Goals,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Private sector can help turn the tide

Mr O’Gorman said that the private sector had a critical role to play in reversing the decline of important food fish populations but that many seafood operators and providers were showing a commitment to more sustainable operations.

“It is crucial that fishing and aquaculture is done legally and conducted according to relevant regulations, and that it meets standards of sustainability like those set out by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council,” he said.

“Thankfully, in the last 12 months we have seen some positive moves towards greater sustainability. Australian farmed salmon company Tassal has become fully certified with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and several Western Australian fisheries have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council."

“These join the ranks of other Australian MSC certified fisheries such as the Northern Prawn Trawl and Spencer Gulf fisheries, while the retailer Coles has just completed a review of its seafood, demonstrating commitment towards the goals of healthy oceans.”

Australia’s marine sanctuaries at risk

The Living Blue Planet Report highlights the need for countries with significant marine assets, like Australia, to set aside important ocean habitats for protection.

“In 2012 Australia was on track to deliver the world’s largest network of marine sanctuaries, and to take a leadership role in the management of our ocean resources, but these sanctuaries are now under review,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“World leaders have unanimously agreed that environmental health, including ocean health, is at the heart of global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and food insecurity. All countries, including Australia, need to contribute to the global effort to protect our oceans and safeguard their most valuable marine resources.”

Southern Ocean critical for environmental and human health

WWF has also called for the waters around Antarctica – which are among the healthiest in the world and help to regulate the global climate – to be protected in a network of large-scale, permanent marine protected areas.

“The Southern Ocean provides homes for whales, seals, albatrosses and penguins, while also supporting globally important fisheries and helping to regulate the global climate,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“The threats to the Southern Ocean are growing, and include overfishing, shipping, tourism and climate change. It is essential for the ongoing health of the planet and for human welfare that we protect the waters around Antarctica.” 

Twenty five nations with interests in the Southern Ocean will meet in Hobart next month at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), where they will consider a proposed network of marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and in the waters around East Antarctica.

“The proposed network of marine protected areas in this valuable ocean wilderness would be the largest of its kind in the world, and would build on the spirit of political cooperation in the Antarctic Treaty,” Mr O’Gorman said. 

“It is this sort of global commitment, replicated around the world, that will ensure abundant ocean life for future generations, while protecting the welfare of millions of people who rely on the sea for protein and livelihoods.”

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Charlie Stevens, Senior Communications Officer