A butterflyfish (Chaetodon trifasciatus) drifts amid coral in Tanzania's Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park. Courtesy Photo | Jennifer O'Leary

Seven in 10 people around the world believe oceans are threatened and support their protection, according to a recent study by Cal Poly researchers, in association with California Sea Grant and Dalhousie University in Noviscota, Canada. Reviewing surveys from more than 32,000 people in 21 countries, the data also found more than 70 percent of people think oceans are in danger and 45 percent of those people believe the threat is high or very high.

“People around the world are aware that the ocean is threatened and what are the major threats to the ocean,” lead author and researcher at Dalhousie University Heike Lotze said in a press release.

California Sea Grant Extension Agent and Cal Poly biologist Jennifer O’Leary is a contributing author to the research published in the Ocean and Coastal Management journal. The California Sea Grant is a partnership that helps to unite universities with resources provided by the federal and state government to increase knowledge and services that benefit the environment in California.

“Oceans cover 70 percent of the earth and are being increasingly subjected to a lot of different threats from human use,” O’Leary said. “I think the public are struggling with, ‘How do we protect this part of our planet?’”

Pollution and fishing were the greatest human threats cited by respondents, followed by habitat alteration, climate change and biodiversity loss. 

“I think one of the biggest challenges going forward is going to be climate change,” biology assistant professor Benjamin Ruttenberg said. “We know that it’s going to have some kind of impact on the system. We are not going to like them.”

Population was cited as a top danger across all nations. Researchers said this is most likely due to the visibility of pollution and large news coverage of the topic.

“This study gives a sense of what we currently know about public perceptions, but it also highlights a tremendous need to understand public views on a much broader scale,” O’Leary said.

Additional research on ocean conservation is conducted by students at Cal Poly through the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences. Using the Center for Coastal Marine Science’s facilities at the end of the Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach, students and researchers are working on six science initiatives to improve the understanding and conditions of our coastal area. Though the pier is located in Avila, researchers work with marine habitats like Morro Bay. The research analyzes sustainable regional fisheries, water quality, coastal habitat protection and local climate change adaptation.

The pier also works on reaching out to the community to educate and inform through different events.

“The ocean is a huge role in our own health in a lot of ways. Fifty percent of the air we breathe and a large portion of our food comes from the oceans, so a lot of the things we rely on come from the ocean,” biology associate professor Sean Lema said. “So, there are a lot of ways that the ocean impacts human health. When you look at it in detail we are very dependent, especially in coastal communities.”

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