29.5: Sustainable Development
As the human population continues to grow and use resources, we must be mindful of our planet’s natural limits. Sustainable development provides a pathway to maintain and improve human life now while also ensuring that future generations will have the resources that they need. The long-term success of sustainability efforts rests on understanding the interplay between human actions and ecological systems.
The oceans are one important focus of global conservation efforts. Overfishing, pollution, and effects of climate change, such as ocean acidification and rising sea levels, are just a few of the major concerns that must be addressed in order to protect the world’s oceans. In addition to providing vast amounts of food for humans, the oceans are an important source of atmospheric oxygen and provide a carbon sink for CO2 gas. They also help regulate the climate and influence weather patterns all over the globe.
One major focus of sustainable development is ocean fishing. Modern fishing methods allow the collection of large numbers of fish at once, which is efficient in the short term but also causes local depletion of fish populations, which can have effects across the ocean food web. Current large-scale fishing methods also result in the deaths of other animals, such as dolphins and sea birds, which are caught in nets along with the intended target fish. Consequently, conservation organizations are working with the fishing industry to design new fishing gear that prevents unintended catches. Furthermore, regulations have been enacted to prevent the depletion of commercially-valuable fish populations. In the long-term, such efforts are beneficial for people as well, who can only continue to rely on fish as a food source if they are not driven to extinction.
Sustainable development is intended to improve the lives of humans, but in order for it to be successful, it must also involve careful management of ecosystems and the other organisms that share the planet with us.