Scientists have predicted that the world’s oceans could be restored to their former glory within 30 years, and report recovering sea life across the globe.

Breaching humpback whale against snowcapped mountains seen in the distance in  Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Alaska, United States.
Humpback whales are one of the success stories © Betty Wiley / Getty Images

Overfishing, pollution and destruction of coastal habitats have taken their toll on oceans for generations, but conservation victories mean there is the potential to fully restore marine life by 2050, and with it increase food provision, protect coasts and help reverse climate change. The recovery programme would require billions of dollars of investment in ocean protection, pollution control and sustainable fishing, but scientists predict the accompanying benefits would be ten times higher.

The review in the journal Nature says the growing climate crisis needs to be tackled to protect oceans, but happily, there is a growing awareness of the ability of oceans and coastal habitats to soak up carbon dioxide and protect coastlines against rising sea levels.

Professor Carlos Duarte, of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, who led the review, says: “we have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver a healthy ocean to our grandchildren, and we have the knowledge and tools to do so”.

Fish on the Great Barrier Reef
It's not too late to restore the world's oceans © Tracey Winholt / Shutterstock

The review found that fishing is becoming more sustainable and that destruction of coastal habitats such as mangroves and seagrass meadows has all but stopped. Among the success stories are humpback whales, whose numbers have risen from a few hundred in 1968 before whaling was banned to over 40,000 today, and sea otters in western Canada, who numbered in just their dozens in 1980 but now have populations in their thousands.

Progress is still extremely complicated, however; overfishing has decimated many areas, pollution still pours into oceans, and water temperatures are at record highs. But restorative practices are seeing an increase, from oyster beds that can clean huge volumes of waters, to protected marine areas that increase fishery catches elsewhere.

The scientists conclude that restoring the world’s oceans fully by 2050 is a huge challenge but one that can be achieved with a global redoubling on conservation efforts.

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