Construction Footprint at Sea Up to 32,000 Square Kilometers

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Robison Wells
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Whether we’re looking at undersea tunnels, or bridges, or communication cables on the seafloor, human-made structures are encroaching on the seas and oceans at an ever-increasing rate. A recent study from Nature Sustainability has estimated that humankind has now built over 32,000 square kilometers or 12,000 square miles.

This includes everything from human-made islands to so-called “aquaculture farms,” which are farms built floating on the shoreline. To put it in a frame of reference, 12,000 square miles is larger than the state of Maryland or the country of Belgium. And the rate at which this construction footprint is growing is picking up the pace, estimated to add another 7,800 square kilometers by 2028.

Researchers for the University of Sydney, Australia, have expressed concerns about the impact these human-made structures have on marine life. “I’m gravely concerned about the damage that we’re doing to the marine environment,” said Louise Firth, a marine ecologist at the University of Plymouth, U.K., who was not involved in the study. Yet, she says she sees the study as “a great first step.”

One of the researchers on the study, Ana Bugnot, wrote: “There’s an idea that the ocean is vast, and no matter what we do, we’ll never destroy it. If we can get an estimate of how much we’ve damaged the environment in a number, people are more likely to pay attention.”

Agriculture and farms are the biggest culprits at present. Still, other large structures, including offshore windmills, which we wrote about on Powertools a few weeks ago, and tidal farms are expected to grow by 208% year over year.

“At no point in this article are we saying, ‘You have to stop all marine construction.’ That’s just not going to happen,” said Bugnot. “It’s about finding compromises.”

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