ocean sprawl photo

DCL

We hear about the damaging effects of urban sprawl all the time. But what we don't as often hear about is ocean sprawl.

What's Ocean Sprawl?

Basically, the oceans are getting crowded and it's a bit of a free-for-all out there. We use the ocean in myriad ways, from fishing to generating electricity, from tourism to military protection. Many entities are starting to bicker for space out there in the big blue sea, and marine life is also getting pushed to the side when it comes to sharing their migration paths and sea floors.

As highlighted recently by CNN, our growing demand for electricity includes wave generated power and offshore wind turbines, which means the energy sector is vying for big chunks of ocean space. And as talked about on TreeHugger a few weeks ago, shipping lanes and the migration routes of endangered whales too often overlap with fatal results. Fish farming is also increasing as the stocks of wild fish are decimated. In other words, we're sprawling from land right out into the ocean as we clamber for more of its resources.

What Impact Does Ocean Sprawl Have on Marine Life?

The more we spread out into the oceans, the worse off all marine life. Our use of sonar for military testing and other functions harms the whales that use their own echolocation systems to navigate, causing them to go deaf, or get disoriented and beach themselves. The impact of offshore wind turbines will take up space, and the long term effects are still relatively unknown since the technology is so new. Pollution is a widespread issue as well, coming from everything from ships, to our own homes when it rains and washes oil and trash into storm drains.

And more humans elbowing for more ocean space could get in the way of setting aside additional (and much needed) marine protection areas. Marine life needs its space, and we're edging in rapidly.

What's Happening to Stop Ocean Sprawl?

In the US, the primary action being taken is the Obama Administration's Ocean Protection Plan, which among other marine issues, will deal with marine spatial planning to prevent ocean sprawl. A 2003 report by the Pew Oceans Commission, more than 140 federal laws govern the ocean's use, with six federal departments and dozens of agencies implementing those laws. But more updates and regulations are necessary as issues like renewable energy generation via tidal, wave, and offshore wind becomes a reality, and the size of problems like the Pacific Trash Vortex are better understood.

Read more about protecting oceans at Blue August

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