Oceans are covered by various infrastructure projects including wind farms, bridges, tunnels, ports, marinas, artificial islands, etc. According to the new findings, the total area that these facilities engulf is 30,000 square kilometers, about 20% of New York's state size.
In addition, if the total area of the oceans that has been affected by the infrastructure development is taken into consideration, there results show that around 2 million square kilometers or more than 0.5% of the oceans are impacted.
According to Dr. Ana Bugnot, lead author of the study and an expert on the effects of human impacts in the marine environment from the University of Sydney, establishing structures in ocean environment is not new since people have been building ports and other structures since ancient times. Nevertheless, marine construction has accelerated in modern times, a fact that has both its benefits and drawbacks.
“It has been ongoing since before 2000 BC. Then, it supported maritime traffic through the construction of commercial ports and protected low-lying coasts with the creation of structures similar to breakwaters. Since the mid-20th century, however, ocean development has ramped up, and produced both positive and negative results. For example, while artificial reefs have been used as ‘sacrificial habitat’ to drive tourism and deter fishing, this infrastructure can also impact sensitive natural habitats like seagrasses, mudflats and saltmarshes, consequently affecting water quality," Dr. Bugnot, stated.
The authors emphasize that infrastructure expansion predictions are concerning. According to Dr. Bugnot, marine construction is expected to increase by 50% to 70% in the next 8 years as there are numerous projects for energy and aquaculture. Both industries are very powerful and human civilization highly depends on them in terms of sustainability and financial prosperity.
The study suggests that coastal defense against sea-level rise will also significantly contribute to increasing the ocean infrastructure. In fact, many cities have future or on-going plans to tackle sea-level rise so that they won't submerge below water.
Collecting data and making reliable estimations is challenging since marine constructions' information is derived via private companies with little supervision. Therefore, scientists believe the current models that have been created may actually underestimate the extent of future marine construction expansion. "There is a dearth of information on ocean development, due to poor regulation of this in many parts of the world," Dr. Bugnot, mentioned.