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Rebuilding marine life

An Author Correction to this article was published on 16 April 2021

This article has been updated


Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the United Nations aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Achieving this goal will require rebuilding the marine life-support systems that deliver the many benefits that society receives from a healthy ocean. Here we document the recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. Recovery rates across studies suggest that substantial recovery of the abundance, structure and function of marine life could be achieved by 2050, if major pressures—including climate change—are mitigated. Rebuilding marine life represents a doable Grand Challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future.

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Fig. 1: Global pressures on marine life.
Fig. 2: Global growth of restoration interventions.
Fig. 3: Recovery trends of marine populations.
Fig. 4: Recovery projections for assessed fish stocks.

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This work was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology through baseline funding to C.M.D. and S.A. G.L.B. was supported by the Simons Collaboration on Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems/CBIOMES (grant number 549931); J.-P.G. was supported by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Veolia Foundation and the French Facility for Global Environment; H.K.L. and B.W. were supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ocean Frontier Institute (Module G); J.C.C. was supported by the Catedra Arauco in Environmental Ethic-UC and Centro Interdisciplinario de Cambio Global-UC. We thank T. Kuwae, R. J. Orth, the Mars Sustainable Solutions (part of Mars Inc), and C. Haight and B. DeAngelis for supplying details on restoration projects; L. Valuzzi, R. Devassy, A. Parry and F. Baalkhuyur for help with the inventory of restoration projects, E. McLeod for help locating materials, and A. Buxton and S. Gasparian for help with displays.

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C.M.D developed the concept and all authors contributed to the design, data compilation, analysis and writing of the Review.

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Correspondence to Carlos M. Duarte.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature thanks Jonathan S. Lefcheck, Brian MacKenzie and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Information S1: Examples of successful restoration of coastal habitats. Includes 10 figures. Supplementary Information S2: Data Sources and Analysis. Includes 3 figures and 3 tables, and two supplementary videos (provided as separate files). Supplementary Information S3: Brief narrative on the actions underlying recovery of each of the components targeted by the strategy as reported in Table 1. Supplementary Information S4: The Case for Investment in Rebuilding Marine Biodiversity. Supplementary Information References: References S1-S96.

Video 1

Time evolution of the Marine Protected Areas declared around the world.

Video 2

Time evolution of the restoration projects of coastal habitats deployed around the world.

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Duarte, C.M., Agusti, S., Barbier, E. et al. Rebuilding marine life. Nature 580, 39–51 (2020).

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