From: University of California, San Diego via EurekAlert
Published February 17, 2014 09:09 AM

Protect the deep ocean now!

The deep ocean, the largest domain for life on earth, is also its least explored environment. Humans are now encroaching more vigorously than ever into the ocean's deep regions, exploiting the deep's resources and placing its wealth of vibrant habitats and natural services for the planet at risk.

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Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, believes the vital functions provided by the deep sea—from carbon sequestration to nurturing fish stocks—are key to the health of the planet. As humans ramp up exploitation of deep-sea fish, energy, minerals, and genetic resources, a new "stewardship mentality" across countries, economic sectors, and disciplines is required, Levin says, for the future health and integrity of the deep ocean.

As the human population has more than doubled in the past 50 years, demand for food, energy, and raw materials from the sea has risen with it.

"At the same time, human society has undergone tremendous changes and we rarely, if ever, think about these affecting our ocean, let alone the deep ocean," said Levin, who has conducted research on the deep sea for more than 30 years. "But the truth is that the types of industrialization that reigned in the last century on land are now becoming a reality in the deep ocean."

"As we exhaust many coastal stocks, commercial fishers have turned towards deeper waters," said Levin.

Beyond marine life depletion, the deep sea also is being threatened by the search for new sources for energy and precious materials. Oil and gas exploration now routinely targets seabeds in more than a thousand meters of water depth. Demand for modern technology devices—from cell phones to hybrid car batteries—has fueled a push by the mining sector to deep waters in search of new sources of metals and other materials.

Abstract underwater scene via Shutterstock.

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