Scientists Call for Deep Ocean 'Stewardship'

Ocean scientists proposed a new 'entity' to protect deep oceans from harmful development.

A scuba diver swims with a sea turtle in the Mediterranean Sea in August 2005. At a conference in Chicago on Sunday, leading ocean scientists called for greater protection of the earth's deep oceans.

A scuba diver swims with a sea turtle in 2005 in the Mediterranean Sea. At a conference in Chicago on Sunday, leading ocean scientists called for greater protection of the earth's deep oceans.

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As commercial fisheries and oil companies push toward the earth’s deep oceans, leading scientists are calling for greater protection of these little-explored areas of the planet

“Human society has undergone tremendous changes and we rarely, if ever, think about these affecting our ocean, let alone the deep ocean,” said Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. “The truth is that the types of industrialization that reigned in the last century on land are now becoming a reality in the deep ocean.”

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At an annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago on Sunday, Levin and others called on government and business leaders to adopt a “stewardship mentality,” chiefly through “international cooperation” and the development of “an entity that can develop and oversee deep-ocean stewardship," in an effort to minimize harm from development.

"From a legal perspective, the deep ocean is filled with contradictions. Deep sea mineral resources located beyond national boundaries are part of the 'Common Heritage of Mankind' under international law, but the fish and octopi that swim just above the seafloor are not," said Kristina Gjerde, senior high seas adviser to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Global Marine and Polar Programme. "To prevent harm we can never hope to repair, precautionary rules need to be in place to guide all human uses of the deep ocean across boundaries and across sectors."