All he asks is 10 percent.
In order to help revive the world's oceans, one of the initial steps should be to make around 10 percent of them zones free from human activity, according to aquatic environmentalist Fabien Cousteau.
"We need to make 10 percent of our oceans no-take zones, places akin to national parks," he said in an interview. "If you give nature a chance to recuperate, it will."
Cousteau, grandson of the famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, will speak tomorrow at the Water Innovations Alliance taking place this week in Chicago. Other speakers include University of Illinois professor Mark Shannon, who will discuss a device he wants to make that will convert sewage into re-useable water, methane, and minerals that can be sold on the open market. (Other interesting water ideas – check out IBM's concept for electricity from osmotic pressure gradients.)
One of the chief problems facing the oceans is a lack of stewardship. Approximately 70 percent of our daily food intake comes from aquatic environments. That includes fish, but also additives like the kelp in ice cream. At the same time, these environments are simply being over-exploited. Fisheries have decimated the populations of large fin fish like tuna and cod. Many have shifted to the once-dubbed trash fish, but even these populations are shrinking. Pollution levels continue to rise.
"We've taken out over 50 percent of our total fish stocks compared to 50 years ago," he said. "We use the ocean as an endless resource and a garbage can."
So what can be done besides establishing no-go zones? First, information about the problem has to be brought to greater attention to the public, he said. Governments and others also have to dedicate more research funding. Ocean research gets about 1/100th of the amount of money that space exploration gets.
"We have maybe explored 2 to 3 percent of the ocean and I guarantee you that there is a much higher chance that we will find interesting forms of life in the ocean," said Cousteau.
Industrialized aquaculture will also likely need to expand. Fifty percent of humanity's fish intake already comes from aquaculture.
"I tend to think it is going to be necessary to continue that and probably increase it," he said. "If it is tailored to the specific fish and environment, it can be done properly... The reality is that there isn't enough wild stock left to feed the world's population."
Still, fish farms will have to avoid releasing pollutants into the natural environment. The economics and energy transfer of fish farming also need to be scrutinized.
"It makes absolutely no sense to feed 2 pounds to a cod to make 1 pound of fish," he said.
And, of course, human societies have to figure out a way through its own water crisis.
"Without fresh water, there is no life on this planet," Cousteau said. "Water is the most valuable resource on this planet, bar none. You can't drink oil and you can't drink gold."
Image via FabienCousteau.org.