How do we use marine resources?


Provisioning services

For food - fish, such as orange roughy, blue ling, grenadier and redfish, and shellfish (e.g., oysters, mussels, crabs and lobsters) are in high demand by communities all over the world.

Fuel, plastics, man-made fibres, chemicals (e.g., pain-killers), rubber, fertilsers...the list is endless!

Central heating, cooking, plastic and chemical production (e.g. antifreeze!), food-processing, some transportation.

Many minerals can be mined from the deep sea, such as gold, nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese and zinc; and with limited reserves on land, deep-sea mining is an attractive, albeit very expensive prospect.

Sand and gravel
Marine aggregates are used mainly in the construction industry for building, and for the manufacture of concrete.  The UK alone uses 13 million tonnes of sand and gravel each year for construction!

Renewable energy
Marine renewable energy converts energy from tidal streams, waves and wind to electricity that we can use on land to fulfil our electricity demands.  Offshore wind energy alone could generate up to one third of the UK's energy demands. 

Supporting and regulating services

Marine tourism
Humans use the sea for leisure in many different ways, from scuba diving to whale watching, surfing to sailing, jet-skiing to fishing.

Waste disposal, absorption and detoxification
Since 2006, disposal of waste at sea has been regulated under the global London Dumping Convention.  Now, only certain types of wastes may be dumped at sea, including dredged material, sewage sludge, fish wastes, vessels and platforms, inert inorganic geological waste (e.g. mining waste), natural organic material, some bulky items of steel, iron or concrete, and carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide sequestration programmes.  Waste absorption and detoxification are also important regulating services as marine organisms store, bury and transform many waste materials through assimilation and chemical transformation, either directly or indirectly. Oceans have a unique (though not infinite) ability to clean up sewage, waste material and pollutants. In particular, bioturbation − the mixing of sediments on the seafloor by burrowing organisms − and accumulation regulate the processes of decomposition and/or sequestration (e.g. by burial) of organic wastes.

CO2 capture and storage
One way that scientists are trying to mitigate climate change is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Scientists are researching ways to do this, and capturing carbon dioxide as a liquid or solid, and then storing it under the sea is one path of research.

Marine habitats, such as coral reefs, support biodiversity, which we rely on for food (fish), medicines (from certain marine species we get painkillers and cancer drugs), tourism (e.g. fishing and scuba diving).

Nutrient cycling
Nutrients are essential to life - without them, plants could not grow, and we could not survive.  Nutrient cycling is the storage, cycling and maintenance of nutrients by living organisms, and microscopic animals have a major responsibily in this.  Marine microbial nutrient cycling is essential for primary production in the sea (for phytoplankton and algae); without it the marine primary production ecosystem, which is the basis for most life on Earth, would collapse.

Water circulation and exchange
Water circulation is essential for life in the oceans, as it enables transport of nutrients and oxygenated water around the oceans.  Water that comes up from the deep ocean (through "upwelling") tends to be nutrient and oxygen-rich, and these "upwelling zones" are associated with high productivity of fisheries.  Ocean circulation can be wind-driven in surface waters, and by density in deeper waters.

Gas and climate regulation
Gas and climate regulation include in particular the maintenance of the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans. An important mechanism in this regard is the so-called 'biological pump' , a series of biologically-mediated processes that transport organic material (hence carbon and other nutrients) from the ocean surface to deeper layers.  The biological pump recycles nutrients and provides food for deep-sea species. It also plays an important role in the Earth's carbon cycle, carrying carbon away from the atmosphere and upper ocean layers. Marine organisms act as a reserve or sink for carbon in living tissue and by facilitating burial of carbon in seabed sediments. Through this natural carbon sequestration and storage process, it provides a climate regulation service.