The oceans of the world are vast, wide, and deep. They constitute about 70 to 80 percent of the earth’s surface, and if one were to look at a Google planet shot of the ocean, one could easily get the sense that there is much of the oceans and seas that seems to have gone on with their life even while human activity on the water has risen exponentially since the first exploratory ships of the Vikings.
Everyone pretty much knows the definition of “ocean.” But how many people know the definition of “wilderness”? While there is a general understanding of the term, there seems to be no hard and fast definition of the term when it comes to the ocean.
Why would the ocean have to have a definition of wilderness? It is an interesting question. Most of us think of wilderness as an area of land that has had minimal to no human contact or disruption. In some ways that would seem like a good definition for the ocean, as an area of the water that has had minimal to no human impact.
But the reality is that virtually no ocean fits a land-based definition of wilderness. There are areas, however, that have had such minimal human contact that they essentially are the areas that revitalize the entire ocean because of their relative pristineness to allow for breeding of many animals and fish species, restoration of coral reefs and other important actions that keep the oceans vibrant.
There is a push to create wilderness areas in the oceans, similar to wilderness created in various countries to protect the sites from human impact, and especially restricting those impacts that do occur (after all, some wilderness areas are popular tourist attractions).
The question arises about what should be the definition of a wilderness in the ocean? Members of the Wilderness Conservation Society and a professor from Australia set out to create a definition of a wilderness area, using such criteria as those areas which have as little impact from 19 different stressors – including fishing, commercial shipping, light pollution and invasive species.
What was found was that less than 15 percent of the ocean could even be defined as “wilderness” based on these criteria – a patch of water in the southern Pacific Ocean and some small areas near both poles.
However, could a wilderness be created through working of the U.S. Wilderness Act, where areas that people deem worthy of protection are protected by statute? Even areas that have been spoiled may be established as wilderness areas to severely restrict and all human use In the future.
While much damage has been done to the numerous ecosystems, many of them are not irreparably harmed if we take the lead in preserving some of these areas now and prevent further degradation for future generations.