Protecting marine ecosystems

Anaxis Asset Management has decided to make a strong commitment to the preservation of aquatic environments. The oceans and the ecosystems they support, which are of incomparable wealth, are often neglected by human beings. Therefore, we believe it is necessary to remind investors of the importance of these ecosystems to encourage them to consider the protection of aquatic environments when making their financial choices.

Overview of the maritime biosphere

So nicknamed because of the abundance of water on its surface, our “blue planet” has exceptional characteristics. Water in its liquid state is a scarce resource whose presence elsewhere in the universe remains uncertain. It distinguishes our planet from others, with more than 70% of the surface covered by seas and oceans. Even more eloquently, data on biodiversity illustrate the importance of the hydrosphere. It is estimated that 50% to 80% of living species live in maritime areas. Abyssal plains, oceanic ridges, seamounts and even oceanic trenches are all environments likely to host a unique fauna and flora. Despite being 10,971 meters deep, studies have shown that the Marianas Trench is inhabited by so-called “piezophilic” organisms that are insensitive to the colossal pressures at that depth.

The ocean remains largely unexplored, but scientists are unanimous: it harbours both a flourishing and precarious biodiversity that we have to protect. But marine ecosystems are not just a field of exploration for biologists. From a climatic, economic and even nutritional perspective, humankind cannot do without marine environments.

Diversity and importance of marine resources

The ocean is a potent climate regulator thanks to ocean circulation or “thermohaline circulation”. Generated by the gradients in seawater density, this flow smooths out temperature differences caused by unequal sunshine. Thus, the biosphere benefits from a better redistribution of heat from the tropics to the poles.

Beyond this heat redistribution, marine environments also contribute to climate regulation through their interactions with other ecosystems. Indeed, the ocean is a gigantic extractor of atmospheric carbon. Globally, nearly a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, i.e., human-made emissions, are captured by the oceans. Even more remarkably, the oceans contain 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere. Exchanges take place at the air-sea interface and the “biological pump”. This term refers to the capture of CO2 by bacteria, known as “cyanobacteria”, which transform it into organic matter. Transported to the seabed by many organisms (algae, plankton, bacteria), CO2 is thus removed from the environment. In this way, the biological pump limits the atmospheric concentration of CO2, slows down global warming, and slows down the acidification of the world’s oceans.

Relying on marine ecosystems to solve these problems but not saving these very ecosystems cannot be viable in the long term. Indeed, the oceans cannot absorb all our emissions, especially since most scientific data show an increase in global CO2 release. According to a study conducted by the Global Carbon Project, a 2% increase in this global volume was observed in 2018. Only collective awareness can make it possible to maintain the imperilled balance of our environment.

In addition to the climate issues, it is difficult not to mention the economic matters, given that marine resources provide a livelihood for nearly 60 million people worldwide. In particular, the fishing industry represents an average turnover of 362 billion euros.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world fish consumption is expected to exceed 20 kg per person in 2016, i.e., twice as much as 50 years ago. This figure is continuously rising and shows the fundamental importance of the resources provided by marine ecosystems from a nutritional point of view. However, despite being heavily dependent on marine environments, humans too often neglect this environment.

Nature of anthropogenic threats

While greenhouse gas emissions are the most frequently cited examples of anthropogenic pollution, they are not the only source. Notoriously, oil spills are both ecological and economic disasters. For example, nearly 150,000 birds were oiled when the Erika oil tanker sank in 1999. Additionally, the clean-up costs and economic loss caused by the spill are estimated at 99 million euros. More recently, in 2010, the US experienced an unprecedented environmental disaster when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. For nearly three months, 757 million litres of oil spilled into the Atlantic Ocean. It caused enormous harm, although it is still challenging to put a figure on the scale of the disaster.

In Fukushima, since the nuclear accident on the 11th of March 2011, 1.15 million tonnes of contaminated water has been stored in tanks for treatment. This growing volume poses a severe threat to the environment as it could be discharged into the Pacific Ocean.

Moreover, the regular pollution of water, which has been ignored for too long, is increasingly alarming the world’s authorities. For the first time, in August 2019, The World Bank mentioned an “invisible crisis” affecting the entire hydrosphere. Polluted by nitrates, heavy metals and microplastics, the waters of both poor and rich countries are of low quality. There are several factors at play here. Firstly, the inadequate treatment of wastewater, more than 80% of which gets discharged into the environment without passing through a treatment plant. Secondly, the use of fertilisers in agriculture is spreading and they have been contaminating water bodies for decades. Thirdly, micro-plastics have been detected in 80% of aquatic environments, which further degrade water quality with sometimes dramatic consequences. Nearly 30% of the fulmar population has disappeared in Scotland, the direct cause being the styrene microbeads that these birds ingest.

Pollution of the maritime biosphere is a worldwide phenomenon, and its consequences are sometimes remarkable. Cases of eutrophication lead to the proliferation of algae on coasts due to the run-off of fertilisers and nutrients. Entire ecosystems are being threatened with asphyxiation. Rising temperatures amplify this trend by stimulating the growth of aquatic plants.

Human activities are causing many other kinds of destruction, some of which is linked to the exploitation of aquatic resources. The ocean floor is teeming with coveted minerals such as palladium, cadmium and sulphide, which are used to produce mobile phones. The intensive exploitation of these resources is likely to disrupt or destroy the ecosystems in which they are found. The latter is the reason why the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) intervened in 2018 to raise awareness of the risks associated with the uncontrolled exploitation of the oceans. According to the NGO, only a mining code providing a precise framework for these activities would curb a trend that has been uncontrolled until now.

At the same time, overfishing is also a practice that compromises the balance of maritime ecosystems. In 2017, the NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a new alert on the risks of this irresponsible practice affecting 31% of the world’s fish stocks. The latter is even more alarming given that this trend is difficult to curb and considering that 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally each year.

These figures, which are continually rising, reflect the need for global awareness. Global warming, ocean acidification, water pollution and overexploitation of marine resources are harmful consequences of human activities. We must adapt our financial practices to help to limit them.