Marine ecosystems are the largest of Earth's aquatic ecosystems and are distinguished by waters that have a high salt content. These systems contrast with freshwater ecosystems, which have a lower salt content. Marine waters cover more than 70% of the surface of the Earth and account for more than 97% of Earth's water supply and 90% of habitable space on Earth. Marine ecosystems include nearshore systems, such as the salt marshes, mudflats, seagrass meadows, mangroves, rocky intertidal systems and coral reefs. They also extend outwards from the coast to include offshore systems, such as the surface ocean, pelagic ocean waters, the deep sea, oceanic hydrothermal vents, and the sea floor. Marine ecosystems are characterized by the biological community of organisms that they are associated with and their physical environment.
In addition to providing many benefits to the natural world, marine ecosystems also provide social, economic, and biological ecosystem services to humans. Pelagic marine systems regulate the global climate, contribute to the water cycle, maintain biodiversity, provide food and energy resources, and create opportunities for recreation and tourism. Economically, marine systems support billions of dollars worth of capture fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, and trade and shipping.
Threats to marine ecosystems
Human exploitation and development
Coastal marine ecosystems experience growing population pressures with nearly 40% of people in the world living within 100 km of the coast. Humans often aggregate near coastal habitats to take advantage of ecosystem services. For example, coastal capture fisheries from mangroves and coral reef habitats are estimated to be worth a minimum of $34 billion per year. Yet, many of these habitats are either marginally protected or not protected. Mangrove area has declined worldwide by more than one-third since 1950, and 60% of the world's coral reefs are now immediately or directly threatened. Human development, aquaculture, and industrialization often lead to the destruction, replacement, or degradation of coastal habitats.
Moving offshore, pelagic marine systems are directly threatened by overfishing. Global fisheries landings peaked in the late 1980s, but are now declining, despite increasing fishing effort. Fish biomass and average trophic level of fisheries landing are decreasing, leading to declines in marine biodiversity. In particular, local extinctions have led to declines in large, long-lived, slow-growing species, and those that have narrow geographic ranges. Biodiversity declines can lead to associated declines in ecosystem services. A long-term study reports the decline of 74–92% of catch per unit effort of sharks in Australian coastline from 1960s to 2010s.
- Toxic substances
- Trash and microplastics
- Global aquarium trade
- Ballast water transport
- Warming temperatures
- Increased frequency/intensity of storms
- Ocean acidification
- Sea level rise
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