Only 13.2 % of the World’s Oceans are Intact Ocean Wilderness, Study Says

Green turtle swimming over coral reefs in Kona, Hawaii. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Image Credit: Brocken Inaglory.)

Recent research published in the journal Current Biology examines data on 19 human stressors to the ocean and determines that only 13.2 %—approximately 55 million sq km—of the oceans remain wilderness areas, little of which is in coastal areas and only 4.9 % of which lies within currently protected marine areas.  The authors define global marine wilderness as “biologically and ecologically intact seascapes that are mostly free from human disturbance,” and the stressors they examine include shipping, industrial fishing, climate change and agricultural runoff, among others.

The study, “The Location and Protection Status of Earth’s Diminishing Marine Wilderness,” also examines erosion of marine wilderness on large scales and notes that once lost, some areas will be nearly impossible to recover. In an examination of conservation efforts and related policy, the study shows that no international environmental agreement includes a definition of marine wilderness. The study emphasizes consideration of “the three-dimensional nature of the ocean” in designing policy focused on impacts occurring at specific depths in order to be effective.

The full text of the study, as well as a video abstract explaining the paper, is available at Current Biology.


Jones, K.R, Klein, C.J., Halpern, B.S, Venter, O., Grantham, H., Kuempel, C.D., Shumway, N., . . . Watson, J.E.M. (2018). The Location and Protection Status of Earth’s Diminishing Marine Wilderness. Current Biology, 28(15), P2506-2515.E3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.06.010

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