Marine Biodiversity

The oceans of the world encompass 70% of the earth’s surface area. Marine biodiversity and ecosystems are essential to the functioning of earth's surface and atmosphere inhabited by living things and thus to the well-being of humans. Ocean and coastal marine ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services that are rudimentary to human health and welfare. Marine biodiversity sustains the functioning of marine ecosystems and the services that it provides. There is, however, growing concern about the occurrence of multiple global environmental pressures brought upon by anthropogenic changes in the oceans. The impact of these changes on marine biodiversity and ecosystems are cause for great concern.

Major threats to marine and coastal ecosystems include coastal development, global climate change, invasive species, overfishing and pollution. There is growing concern that a large number of marine species may be under threat of extinction due to the convergence of these threats. Overfishing is considered to be the greatest threat to marine wildlife and habitats. Corals are a necessary habitat for large numbers of species of fish and invertebrates that utilize the various ecosystems in the ocean. Over 27% of corals, however, have been listed as threatened in the most recent assessment of the world’s marine species in the IUCN Red List. In the same study, 25% of marine mammal species were found to be threatened. Marine mammals include cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and whales), manatees, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses), polar bears and sea otters. Major threats to these species include boat strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, and environmental pollution. And over 27% of the world’s seabirds are threatened by factors that include death in long-line fisheries and gill-nets, invasive species, and oil spills.

It is important that we provide for the proper conservation and management of marine species, which serve a vital role as part of our ocean’s resources and human well-being.

To that end, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, in cooperation with other Federal agencies, participates in a number of efforts to conserve marine biodiversity. The U.S. participates in a number of multilateral and bilateral agreements to conserve whales and other cetaceans, polar bears, and seabirds.