Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Michael Bowman, Peter Davies and Edward Goodwin
Chapter 5: Climate change, marine biodiversity and international law
Covering more than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface, the oceans are rich in biodiversity. Described by the Census of Marine Life (COML) as containing ‘an unanticipated riot of species’, the oceans are estimated to contain nearly 250,000 known species with at least one million ‘kinds of marine life that earn the rank of species’ estimated to be found. These species, more often than not rare, include everything from the largest whales to the smallest microbes, bacteria and archaea. While endemism is high, marine biodiversity is found in all ocean areas, from the water column to the deep seabed, from coral reefs to the hostile and extreme environments surrounding hydrothermal vents. Unfortunately, the Census also found corroborating evidence of the unmistakeable detrimental impacts of human activities on marine biodiversity caused, inter alia, by overfishing, habitat destruction and marine pollution. It is a matter of public record that almost one-third of the world’s fish stocks are over-exploited and a further 60 per cent are exploited at absolute maximum levels. It has been estimated that if current catch levels continue, global fish stocks will be commercially extinct by 2100. Moreover, record levels of pollution from land-based sources are contributing to coastal degradation and dead zones in the oceans, while pollution from shipping, dumping and marine litter, and activities such as seabed mining, construction of artificial islands, oil and gas exploration, and bioprospecting, have all been identified as posing individual, cumulative and synergistic threats to marine biodiversity.
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