Good Intentions, Promising Actions Sink During Year Of The Ocean

Environmental Defense Fund Report Reveals Continuing Decline and Degradation, Some Progress

January 12, 1999

The end of 1998 marked the completion of the first International "Year of the Ocean," but what was intended as a year of improvement fell short of its goals. Today, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released a calendar and report summarizing ongoing problems such as declining fish populations, degradation of coral reef ecosystems, lack of effective marine reserves, and negative impacts of aquaculture that have continued in this "celebratory" year.

"The Year of the Ocean was marked by celebrations and speeches. However, while many promising actions were taken to protect the ocean, in general the degradation of fisheries and marine ecosystems continued," said Rod Fujita, an EDF marine biologist. "In 1998, mass coral bleaching took a turn for the worse, several more fish populations became severely depleted -- posing a serious threat to commercial and recreational fishing and to ecosystems -- and the largely unregulated aquaculture industry continued to harm marine and coastal environments. Clearly, we need to do more to protect the ocean."

These conclusions were based on a sampling of major events that occurred during 1998, including:

  • From January to June, coral reefs became bleached throughout many locations in the tropics. Bleaching occurs when the partnership between coral animals and the microscopic algae that normally live in their tissue breaks up, causing malnutrition, poor growth, poor reproduction, and often, death. Bleaching is caused by numerous factors, including pollution and unusually warm temperatures.
  • In April, the World Trade Organization ruled that the US law banning shrimp imports from countries that do not require Turtle Excluder Devices violates free trade rules. EDF and other environmental groups strongly opposed this ruling, and requested that the Clinton Administration appeal it.
  • In September, Mexican environmentalists accused shrimp farms of destroying nearly eight square miles of mangrove forest in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit.
  • In September, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that 90 fish populations were overfished, with 10 more approaching an overfished condition. That means one-third of the 300 populations that are assessed are either overfished or approaching an overfished condition. Almost two-thirds (64%) of the species that are exploited are not even assessed.
"The Year of the Ocean should be a wake-up call," said EDF Oceans Program director Doug Hopkins. "As society prepares to enter the 21st century, it's imperative that ecologically and economically sound policies be put in place to preserve our precious marine resources for future generations."