From faraway, Earth’s oceans look large enough to absorb anything human beings could do to them. But by isolating and associating certain data sets, geo-science researchers are coming to a more troubling set of conclusions. There’s mounting evidence that many activities we take for granted as the birthright of Humanity are impacting the oceans; whether we mean to or not. Earth’s oceans cover 114,000,000 mi.² But only about 4% of that area remains unaffected by human action. In these data, red coloration indicates areas where people are seriously degrading some aspect of ocean health. Yellow marks medium impact And the very small areas of blue represents very low impact. But let’s look closer: Coral reefs in the Caribbean show severe signs overfishing. Their health, badly compromised by nearby onshore real estate development Moving to the northeast, we can trace shipping lanes, which are disrupting great expanses of the ocean. The warming trends associated with global climate shift, coupled with serious overfishing have severely depleted target species in the North Sea. The polar ocean regions remain among the few areas showing relatively low impact. But remember: these areas are protected by ice for parts of the year. And, as the average concentration of ice continues to decrease from year to year, the effects of human activity are likely to worsen. Some of the worst damage is to the waters of coastal Asia. Sedimentation from dammed rivers, overfishing, unregulated pollution, and rapid urbanization have all contributed. Destructive fishing practices not only kill non-target species but also undermine ecosystem health. To prove the case, have a look at the northern coast of Australia near Papua New Guinea. People live there. And yet this region displays some of the fewest impacts. That’s because strict laws protect this territory. There are more marine nature preserves here than anywhere else in the world. As Earth’s human population grows ever larger, it’s up to the science and technology communities to find ways for people to prosper without punishing the planet. Because the only other alternatives are either more restrictive laws… …Or dying oceans. For LiveScience, I’m Dave Brody

Satellite imagery reveals the many ways human activities impact Earth’s oceans. Although the ocean surface is huge, only 4% remains unaffected by overfishing, pollution, run-off, chemical changes, and climate shift.

Credit: NOAA/