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'Seafood might be history by 2048'

Scientists in the US see danger lurking in the ocean ecosystem's overall productivity and stability.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 14:01 IST

A major study conducted by an international team of researchers has arrived at the conclusion that marine species were disappearing at a great pace, and if the trend was allowed to continue unabated, seafood as we know it today might be history by 2048.

The scientists who conducted the research said that the problem was not just losing a key source of food, but that the damage to the oceans was affecting the ocean ecosystem's overall "productivity and stability".

Boris Worm, who headed the team of scientists, said that it was not too late to begin protecting the marine ecosystem and improve ocean bio-diversity. Worm is an assistant professor of marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.

"Species have been disappearing from ocean ecosystems and this trend has recently been accelerating. Now we begin to see some of the consequences. For example, if the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime -- by 2048."

"At this point 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed i.e. their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating. We don't have to use models to understand this trend; it is based on all the available data," said Worm.

He, however, added: "The good news is that it is not too late to turn things around." The scientists studied 48 areas worldwide that have been protected to improve marine biodiversity. On the basis of the experience gathered, Worm further said: "We see that diversity of species recovered dramatically, and with it the ecosystem's productivity and stability."

"Through this research, it became clear to me that we hardly appreciate living on a blue planet," Worm said. "The oceans define our planet, and their fate may to a large extent determine our fate, now and in the future."

The findings of the research are published in the journal Science under the title "Impact of Bio-diversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services". The international team of ecologists and economists studied the role marine bio-diversity plays in maintaining ecosystem services, which are those goods and functions that are essential for the growing human population.

"Worm and colleagues have provided the first comprehensive assessment of the state of ecosystem services provided by the bio-diversity of the world’s oceans to humanity. The news is both bad and good," said Science International Managing Editor Andrew Sugden.

He added: "The strength of this paper lies in the breadth of the array of information the authors used for their analysis. They not only used new experimental data and recent data, they also delved into historical archives to assess the impact of humans on marine ecosystem over decades and centuries."

The researchers were surprised to find very similar relationships between biodiversity change and ecosystem services at scales ranging from small square-meter plots to entire ocean basins.

Worm said. "This suggests that small-scale experiments can be used to predict large-scale ocean change."

First Published: Nov 03, 2006 13:27 IST