Top 10 Threats to Oceans and Coasts in South America


Photo credit: Barbara Dieu

A new report by The Nature Conservancy checks off the top 10 threats to marine conservation in South America. The No. 1 villain: Overfishing, but developmental pressures and myriad environmental challenges are no slouches either.

The coastal waters south of the border could face permanent, irrevocable damage if sustainability and conservation issues are allowed to fall by the wayside. "Overfishing in South American waters is widespread. Demand for seafood both from domestic and foreign markets is driving economic activities in the region, and it could cause irreversible damage," says Dr. Anthony Chatwin, an oceanographer and lead author of "Priorities for Coastal and Marine Conservation in South America," a report that represents the findings of more than 300 experts from 85 different South American governmental agencies, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations.He adds: "Unsustainable fishing practices not only wreak havoc on marine habitats, but they also undermine supply to markets which cause higher prices for consumers. This has happened with Chilean Sea bass, and will happen with other products if overfishing is not addressed. We need to be more aware of where our seafood comes from and demand that fishing practices are sustainable."

The coastal waters of South America are some of the most beautiful and species-rich areas in the world, says The Nature Conservancy, but pressures on these habitats have ramped up in recent years to match the demands of the continent's 380-million-strong populace and the international seafood market.

The top 10 continental threats, as ranked by the report's experts are:

1. Overfishing
2. Pollution
3. Urban development
4. Resource extraction
5. Hydrocarbon industries
6. Aquaculture
7. Maritime transport
8. Tourism
9. Invasive species
10. Climate change

The report also narrows in on specific, tangible threats, such as Peru's overfishing of anchovies, which is affecting Humboldt penguins and guano birds that chow down on the fish as their primary food source. In southern Chile, cold water corals, previously known to exist only at great depths, are besieged by a booming salmon aquaculture industry. Meanwhile, sea-turtle nesting and feeding grounds along the coasts of Brazil face intense coastal-developmental pressures because of tourism, offshore oil and gas exploration, and overfishing. (Is egg laying not a Herculean effort as it is without that racket and all the lookie-loos? Sheesh.)

"The report identifies 90 million acres of potential new coastal and marine protected areas around South America, and if created, this would more than double the amount of ocean and coastal lands that are currently protected," Chatwin says.

"A significant portion of the South American population depends on coastal and marine resources for their subsistence, but if the degradation of oceans continues, socioeconomic challenges such as poverty will only be exacerbated," he adds. "Governments need to realize that investments in marine conservation and protected areas can and will benefit local economies and oceans." ::Nature Conservancy

See also: ::The 10 Solutions to Save the Oceans, ::Coral Die-Offs Are Faster and More Widespread than Previously Thought, and ::Dead Lands Walking: The World's Most Endangered Destinations

Tags: Biodiversity | Brazil | Conservation | Peru | Pollution