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Global Atlas of Human Footprint on the Ocean

Only 4% of the oceans are in relatively pristine state according to a study by Halpern et al. published in Science (14 Feb 2008).

By focusing on the current predicted impact of humans on marine ecosystems within the last decade, Harpen et al. produce the first global atlas of anthropogenic impact on the world’s oceans. They conclude that no area is unaffected by human influence and that a large fraction (41%) is strongly affected by multiple drivers, even though large areas around the poles remain relatively pristine.  The model points to particularly high cumulative human impact in the waters of the North Sea, Eastern Caribbean, Japanese waters and northern Australia.

The study compiles global datasets of 17 different types of human impact on marine ecosystems, including ocean pollution, ocean acidification, invasive species, shipping and commercial fishing, and human population density impact.

The impact of each was assessed through expert workshops and analysis limited to anthropogenic drivers with pre-existing global coverage. The results represent the current best spatial representation of anthropogenic impacts, and despite the conservative and incomplete estimate for most of the ocean, the approach may be used to identify regions where better management of human activities could achieve a higher return-on-investment by shifting high impact fishing zones and rerouting navigation lanes to decrease stress on sensitive areas of the ocean.

The authors point to the compilation of regional and global databases of empirical measurements of ecosystem condition as a key next research step to further validate the efficacy of the approach.

All open-access data and analytical code used in this project will be accessible online (website address to be announced by the authors).


Benjamin S. Halpern, Shaun Walbridge, Kimberly A. Selkoe, Carrie V. Kappel, Fiorenza Micheli, Caterina D’Agrosa, John F. Bruno, Kenneth S. Casey, Colin Ebert, Helen E. Fox, Rod Fujita, Dennis Heinemann, Hunter S. Lenihan, Elizabeth M. P. Madin, Matthew T. Perry, Elizabeth R. Selig, Mark Spalding, Robert Steneck, Reg Watson. A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems, Science 14 Feb 2008

Relevant Links
Global atlas of human impact on the oceans, spining globe animation
- contact authors for full quality version
What does the map represent, how was it constructed, more graphics and presetation mateials

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