Is a sustainable ocean economy realistic?

The world’s oceans face many crises, largely caused by humans, including warming waters, alarming rates of pollution, overfishing and the loss of more than half of all living coral reefs. These risks are acute for coastal communities that depend on the seas for their livelihoods, but healthy oceans are also critical for the security of future generations, say environmental advocates and policymakers. Regulations to reverse the damage to marine areas and mitigate the effects of climate change remain hard to enforce given limited public resources, piecemeal governance and commercial entities motivated by profit. Some international institutions and policymakers support a “blue economy,” which aims to develop the oceans in a sustainable way to produce more food and clean energy to support the world’s growing population. Others — including environmentalists and citizen groups — are skeptical, saying a blue economy is likely to degrade the marine environment even further. The oceans and their ecosystems are resilient, but can humanity leave them alone long enough to recover?

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