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Oceans cover more than 70 percent of Earth's surface and are essential for human life. They supply much of the world's food and oxygen. Today, however, many parts of the world's oceans are overfished and polluted. Climate change is altering marine ecology, and rising water temperatures are severely harming shellfish, coral reefs and other resources. Excess nutrients from land-based sources such as wastewater and fertilizer have created hundreds of ocean “dead zones,” huge areas depleted of oxygen, where little or no sea life can survive. In the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still assessing the effects on marine life stemming from the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Ocean exploration has fired human imagination for centuries, and scientists are still finding new life forms, many of which could yield new medicines and other valuable products. But experts warn that without better protection, ocean water quality, fish stocks and marine habitats will suffer long-lasting damage.
Scientists warn that ocean damage from global warming will intensify.
An ocean census recently identified 1,200 new marine species.
The United States and other nations announced new initiatives to protect oceans.
|1900s–1950s||As fishing industry grows and becomes more industrialized, fish stocks decline.|
|1960s–1970s||Environmentalists in U.S. and Europe press for stronger water pollution controls and regulation of fishing and whaling.|
|1980s–1990s||Nations protect some fisheries, but others remain under pressure. Overfishing and development cause widespread damage to Caribbean coral reefs.|
|2000s-Present||Scientists predict that climate change will drastically alter ocean life. Science-based catch limits improve some yields.|