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The bountiful sea: prospects for sustainable use of marine bioresources (Society of Biology Charter Lecture)

Peter Olive, Emeritus Professor, School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University

Date/Time: 1st November 2011

The world’s seas and oceans contain huge resources but an increasing human population threathens their diversity. Despite ever-increasing fishing effort, and sophisticated technology, the world’s capture fisheries moved into decline in the 1980s. A majority of fish stocks had become overused and many were in danger of collapse. A change in the pattern of human use of the marine environment became essential: from that of hunter–gatherer to the farming and biotechnological exploitation of marine resources. That change is now well underway; aquaculture contributes as much as the capture fishery to the total world food supply and its monetary value is much greater. Nevertheless, serious questions are being asked about the extent to which marine aquaculture adds to the total food supply and the hidden environmental costs.

This lecture discussed how knowledge transfer underpins ecosystem-based fishery management, complemented by more sustainable aquaculture production systems in which the farming of organisms low in the food chain come to play an increasingly important role. Marine biodiversity, as exemplified by hugely rich coral reef ecosystems, is also under threat not only from fishing and other forms of exploitation but also as a direct consequence of climate change. Biotechnology can utilise the reservoir of genetic riches without threatening them, as exemplified by the development of human blood health products based on giant haemoglobin molecules of marine worms!