The Center for Biological Diversity is working to establish crucial protections for marine species and their habitats.
The "high seas," or open ocean, have historically been a no-man's-land, claimed by no single country and not governed by any single body of law; and the sea has been treated as an inexhaustible resource, infinitely deep, wide, and bountiful. But the advent of large-scale commercial fishing, shipping and oil drilling has pushed many species to the brink of extinction and beyond, and the oceans' animals and natural systems are now in serious decline.
Oceans and the extraordinary life they contain are under severe pressure from pollution, massive overfishing, and runaway development along coastlines whose fragile ecosystems easily become irrevocably degraded. Commercial fisheries are collapsing around the globe as species in, above and around the oceans are being killed off at breakneck pace.
An Ocean Planet
Oceans cover nearly three-quarters of the globe. Their depths, still largely unexplored, comprise more than 95 percent of the biosphere (the part of the world known to contain life). The seas produce a third of the oxygen that supports life on earth and moderates global climate change; in many parts of the world, fish and other marine animals provide more than half the animal protein in human diets.
About 60 percent of the ocean is considered "deep-sea," of which only ten percent has been explored by humans. Much of the deep sea's biodiversity is just beginning to be understood. In the 1970s, for example, scientists aboard Alvin, a deep-diving bathysphere, discovered hot vents surrounded by vibrant communities of more than 500 species of animals, including tube worms that can grow to ten feet long and giant clams.
The diverse habitats associated with oceans-including tidepools, estuaries and deltas, coral reefs, sea grass meadows, beaches, and underwater forests of kelp-have allowed for the evolution of a vast range of animals and plants, in astounding variety. From giant blue whales to intelligent dolphins, sharks, ancient turtles, sea lions and manatees, multitudes of species of fish and invertebrates, and sea-going birds, to the ethereal, bioluminescent organisms of the deep, the sea's communities boast many of the most extraordinary and little-understood life forms on earth. In some extremely cold, extremely high-pressure places on the bottom of the sea, where no electromagnetic energy can penetrate, biologists are beginning to discover organisms that don't even depend on the sun's energy for life.
The Center's Marine Protection Program
To meet an urgent need for legal protection of imperiled ocean species along the severely stressed coastal ecosystems of the Pacific and the upper Gulf of California, the Center is applying lessons learned in protecting terrestrial species to the protection of marine animals and ecosystems. Our Marine Protection Program deploys science, legislative and administrative advocacy, coalition-building, public education and citizen action to establish vital and timely protections for marine species and habitats as far south as Baja California and the Gulf, as far west as the Hawaiian archipelago, and as far north as Alaska's Arctic Circle.
The Center launched its marine campaign by targeting three California fisheries with the greatest adverse impacts on threatened and endangered species: set gillnet, drift gillnet, and longline. As we achieve successive closures of these fisheries, we are also conducting status reviews of other marine species in urgent need of protection, both off the California and Alaska coasts and within the greater North Pacific. We are also working to protect a wide range of species in key marine ecosystems such as the Colorado River Delta and Puget Sound.
By shutting down harmful fisheries, petitioning for the listing of imperiled marine species under the Endangered Species Act, and pressing for the establishment of marine sanctuaries, the Center hopes to achieve important new protections for ocean species and habitats over the coming years.
The Center's victories on behalf of marine species and habitats include:
- The closure of a Hawaiian lobster fishery to protect the Hawaiian monk seal, one of the world's most endangered marine mammals in November, 2000;
- The closure of the Monterey Bay set-gillnet fishery for halibut and angel shark, protecting sea otter, harbor porpoises, common murres, elephant seals, and California sea lions, and 150 miles of California's coast, in September, 2000;
- The designation of the Cook Inlet beluga whale as a "depleted species" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in May, 2000, which ended hunting of the declining species;
- Protection of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles through partial closure of a drift gill net fishery along the California coast, simultaneously affording some protection to marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lions, as well as the fishery's target species of thresher sharks and swordfish;
- The first-ever listing of a marine invertebrate under the Endangered Species Act (White Abalone, May 2001).
- In 1999, the Center secured funds for the Reserva de la Biosfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado (Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Biosphere Reserve) of Mexico, to assist in protective management for upper Gulf fisheries and to protect riparian and marsh habitats.