Story at a glance

  • Noted oceanographer Sylvia Earle said this week during global climate discussions that world leaders should ban industrial fishing.
  • Industrial fishing has depleted marine life at an alarming rate, the United Nations said in 2018.
  • Earle has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater and holds the record for the deepest untethered dive by a woman.

World leaders must ban industrial fishing to preserve the ocean, an essential weapon in the fight against climate change, the marine biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle said this week.

Earle, 86, spoke at the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow this week, participating in panel discussions with the politician and environmentalist Al Gore and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, among others.

“It’s the No 1 priority, because we have the chance, in a stroke, to safeguard the blue heart of the planet,” she said. “It’s where most of the oxygen that comes from the ocean is generated. It’s where most of the carbon is taken up.”

The industrial fishing industry’s unprecedented growth has depleted marine life at an alarming rate, and a third of commercial fish populations are being harvested at biologically unsustainable levels, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a 2018 report.


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“All of that wildlife taken out of the ocean not only affects biodiversity and fosters extinctions at an accelerated rate, it breaks the carbon cycle – the nutrient chain that maintains the fabric of life on Earth,” Earle said.

Earle has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater and holds a record set in 1979 for the deepest untethered dive by a woman, descending 1,250 feet. She served as the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Time Magazine named her its first Hero for the Planet in 1998.

“It is frustrating to be able to see the future so clearly, from having spent years at sea, and thousands of hours under the sea, and to realize that so many people can’t see it,” she said on Wednesday. “The climate scientists are saying: ‘Listen up, we’ve got about 10 years, to make or break our behavior toward nature.”

Earle argued that only a handful of communities rely on ocean life for food, but “many more rely on it for money, using wild animals as a source of revenue.”

A vegetarian who has not eaten fish for at least four decades, Earle said humanity has “abused” the ocean, which she called a “living system, a biogeochemical miracle, that keeps us safe in a universe that doesn’t have a built-in life support system.”


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Published on Nov 10, 2021