Oceans around the world are worth around $24 trillion dollars, according to a new report from the WWF. The wildlife conservation group estimates oceans generate around $2.5 trillion of output each year, rivaling nations such as England or Brazil. However, climate change and pollution severely threaten that financial worth, the group concludes.

"Reviving the Ocean Economy: The Case for Action - 2015" examines the value of the global ocean in terms of monetary benefits to humans. The report estimates that if the global ocean were a nation, it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world.

The loss of coral ecosystems, as well as the loss of populations of fish and the disappearance of seagrass each threatens the financial value of oceans, the advocacy group determined.

"The ocean rivals the wealth of the world's richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy. As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean's valuable assets without investing in its future," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said.

The report cites the dangers of rising human populations becoming increasingly dependent on products obtained from the ocean at the same time that the marine environment is changing faster than it has in millions of years.

"The ocean is at greater risk now than at any other time in recorded history. We are pulling out too many fish, dumping in too many pollutants, and warming and acidifying the ocean to a point that essential natural systems will simply stop functioning," Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the press.

Coral reefs could all vanish by the year 2050, according to the researchers who compiled the report. Such a change to the aquatic environment could affect hundreds of millions of people who depend on the habitats for food and jobs in the commercial fishing industry.

Overfishing has destroyed populations of many species of the animals, including Pacific bluefin tuna, which now numbers just 4 percent of its population level before fishing began. The conservation group estimates that around 90 percent of all fish species targeted by commercial fisheries are over-harvested, endangering the survival of the animals and the marine ecosystem as a whole.

Ocean acidity driven by global climate change could take thousands of years to return to normal levels, according to the group.

The WWF report (PDF-summary) outlines eight steps which it feels must be undertaken to save the ocean economy. Among these are addressing acidification of oceans, establishing conservation areas, and strengthening bonds between governments and private groups to protect threatened areas. One of the top three actions needed to revive the ocean's productive capacity, the report recommends, is to deliver on the target of having at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas protected and effectively managed by 2020, as set out in the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity.

"It's not just about wildlife, pretty animals. It is about us," Lambertini said.

Photo: Mike Lewis | Flickr

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