Throughout 2020, many scientific breakthroughs were made, but a lot of important research and discoveries were achieved regarding Santa Barbara’s perhaps most treasured asset: the ocean.
On July 22, a study was published showing that sharks are almost completely absent from reefs in several nations, meaning there’s a decline in the reef shark population.
Dr. Jenn Caselle, a research biologist at the UCSB Marine Science Institute, was one of 150 authors of the study. They wrote that humans are ultimately the cause of the decline, due to overfishing of sharks and their prey and the use of destructive fishing practices such as the use of longlines and gillnets.
Reef sharks generally don’t pose a threat to humans, so the scientists advised to reduce overfishing and increase marine-protected areas and shark conservation zones.
Along with saving sharks, UCSB researchers also launched an online tool to save whales this year.
UCSB’s Benioff Ocean Initiative launched Whale Safe, a tool that predicts the presence of whales in the channel and helps inform ship captains to slow down and avoid hitting whales, as many cargo ships kill the endangered species unknowingly.
Scientists also discovered at the end of October that industrial fishing has much higher carbon emissions than we originally thought. UCSB marine data scientist and co-author of a study published in “Science Advances,” Juan Mayorga, and his team found that when fish die naturally in the ocean, they sequester carbon for thousands or even millions of years.
Industrial fishing disrupts that sequestration both from releasing CO2 from extracting fish from the sea and from the boats’ greenhouse gas emission by consuming fuel oil.
They found that carbon emissions from fishing are 25% higher than what was considered from fuel consumption.
On top of fishing’s carbon emissions harming the environment, scientists discovered that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a harsh decline in aquaculture.
The U.S. exports lots of fish as well as imports, and the pandemic’s trade restrictions slowed those exchanges, which heavily impacted the seafood industry. In addition, the majority of seafood is consumed in restaurants, even though seafood takeout and home-cooked recipes increased.
While local demand and purchasing softened the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, scientists are now looking into ways to create a robust seafood industry in the future, including policy changes.
It goes without saying that the scientific community hopes to find more solutions in 2021, and protect the waters that Santa Barbara residents have the privilege to enjoy.