COVID-19: Good or Bad for the Ocean?

As we all adjust to the “new normal,” we ask what the pandemic means for our seas. Is COVID-19 good or bad for the ocean?

One thing is certain: wherever you are, it’s no longer possible to conduct your day-to-day business as though nothing has changed. COVID-19 is here, and we’re all adjusting to a new normal, at least until our respective health systems can get a grip on things. But is Covid-19 good or bad for the ocean? To examine what this global pause really means — or could mean — for ocean health in the long run, we’ve done some digging around the five most popular claims on this topic.

Read on for some insight on each of these promising — and not so promising — statements and what you can do about each of them.

With less oversight, illegal fishing will go unchecked

Verdict: Accurate

Even in the best of times, the ocean is poorly-policed. In many ways, it remains the final, untamed frontier. With law enforcement on the ocean severely reduced due to the virus, illicit fishing is likely to increase. Facing increased pressure to be self-sufficient and protect their families in the event of a global recession, many may need to engage with in-ocean crime to survive, spelling bad news for our already depleted fish stocks.

What can I do?

Use your vacation — when we can travel again — to visit resorts that channel the power of tourism into ecosystem protection, community education, and legitimate employment as an alternative to fishing. Misool Resort, an eco-resort and community foundation in Raja Ampat is an inspirational example.

With everyone stockpiling food, the ocean is under increased strain

Verdict: Inaccurate

In reality, we’re all far more interested in hoarding toilet paper than we are fish. Supply and demand for fresh fish has actually plummeted in the midst of COVID-19. This is due to market disruption and a reduction in legal fishing activities and customer demand. The last time a global crisis impacted the fishing industry on a similar scale was World War II, which lead to a significant rebound in numerous species throughout the 1950s.

What can you do?

If you simply cannot give up fish, read up on the Marine Stewardship Council’s Sustainable Fish Guide, and do your best to understand where your seafood is coming from.

Important research can’t go ahead because of the virus

Verdict: Accurate

Global lockdown has meant a significant reduction in operational ocean science. For example, this three-ship multi-institution investigation of ocean ecosystems that has been over a decade in the works is now uncertain, with all associated research on hold until further notice. The impact of this will affect all areas of ecosystem conservation and fish-stock management, even in currently sustainable fisheries.

What can you do?

Support robust marine conservation organizations such as Project AWARE, the Marine Conservation Society or The Ocean Foundation to aid them with the resources they need to continue their vital work as soon as they are able to.

Less human activity is giving ocean ecosystems a chance to recover

Verdict: Somewhat Accurate

As divers, we’re all anxious to get back in the water; and what a sight it will be when we do. Weeks of uninterrupted life below the waves, however, will give marine creatures great and small a chance to recover and flourish. However, the flip side is that in-ocean conservation activities, such as coral-reef propagation, underwater clean-ups and lion-fish culling have been paused.

What can you do?

Understand the negative consequences of irresponsible diving practices and take necessary actions to ensure you’re not part of the problem. Signing up for a Project AWARE Specialty is a great way to achieve this. When you get back in the water, use your dives for the greater good by getting involved in conservation activities.

The global pause is a breath of fresh air for marine ecosystems

Verdict: Accurate

There is no denying that the carbon footprint of humanity has fallen drastically over the past weeks to a level previously only dreamed of by conservationists and long-term thinkers alike. This is great news for divers and the ocean, as less CO2 means a slowing down of climate change and ocean acidification, which is a major threat to the existence of coral reefs the world over.

What can you do?

Think consciously about what habits you want to bring back into your life after lockdown, and which habits you can leave in the past. Viewed in a certain light, COVID-19 is an unprecedented chance to recalibrate our relationship with the environment, work and each other going forward.

Ultimately however, our collective actions once the lockdown is lifted will determine the long-term impact of COVID-19. Will we return to the same damaging ways of life? Or will we rise to the occasion, creating a new status quo that establishes true balance between humans and the ocean? The future is in our hands.