The Ocean’s Wilderness is Rapidly Disappearing: Why is This Strange and What Does it Mean for Ecosystems Around the World?

WORLDWIDE — The word “wilderness” probably conjures images of pioneers trekking across a largely unexplored territory in early American history, but less than 200 years later these uncharted stretches – even in the ocean – are vanishing. A small percentage of the ocean’s wilderness, about 13 percent from data gathered by a study from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is now thought to be untouched by human hands.

Wilderness is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “a large area of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea retaining its natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition.” Both marvelous and terrifying, humans have conquered nearly all of the ocean’s vastness.

Commercial fishing and seafaring-related professions are often cited among the most dangerous professions in the world, yet human curiosity does not stop us from setting sail to faraway places or to vacation to largely unblemished lands such as Alaska (the only state with a formidable wilderness), Antarctica or the North Poles. Many readers of this humble publication feel more at home on a rocky sailboat, drifting through the waves than they do sitting at home on the couch.

Just a few benefits of wilderness, according to the Pew Research Center, is clean drinking water, economic boons, a thriving wildlife and the refuge of experiencing these quiet, peaceful areas away from the now bustling human city life. With the invention of plastics that litter the ocean, some destructive and illegal fishing methods (for instance, the gillnet’s impact on the critically endangered vaquita porpoise), toxic oil spills and  the hordes of uncaring tourists who cause damage to the environment, the destruction of the ocean’s wilderness, and the lack of drive to protect it, could possibly impair it forever.

Looking ahead, Kendall Jones, a conservation planning specialist with WCS, told Live Science the United Nations is currently debating action to allow designation for these areas, but relief would come from pursuing conservation efforts for the last intact places and individually working to save species and ecosystems from going extinct.

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