World Oceans Day Special: Will The Ocean Be Empty by 2048?

Published on by Green Initiatives

The ocean is a planetary superpower. Home to spectacular ecosystems and treasured wildlife, the ocean covers 71% of our Earth’s surface and sustains the lives of billions of people. It regulates our climate, produces nearly half the oxygen we breathe, and fuels the water cycle that produces rain and freshwater.

Yet, in recent times, it has been increasingly threatened due to a number of reasons.

“The ocean will be empty by 2048…”

The above statement is probably the most shocking and controversial statistic that emerged from this year’s much-talked-about documentary, Seaspiracy. Made by the same team that was also behind the award-winning 2014 film Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy is a hard-hitting documentary that shines a light on the absolute devastation taking place on the high seas.

In a nutshell, it is a much-needed exposé of the greatest threat to marine life: over-fishing. It tells the story of biodiversity collapse in our oceans caused by the industrial fishing industry, and all that is happening out there on the open seas.

Poor fishing practices such as bycatch, high-grading, overfishing, and destructive fishing, are the main cause of much destruction and loss of biodiversity in the ocean.

Read on below to find out what these words mean.

01. bycatch

According to WWF, “Bycatch is the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife.”

A staggering amount of marine life—including seals, turtles, dolphins and juvenile fish—is hauled up with the larger catch, and then discarded overboard dead or dying. Due to widely varied perceptions of target and non-target catch, estimating bycatch globally is very tricky – with global estimates ranging from 10-40%.



02. high-grading

Much like the rest of the food industry, fish and other seafood are at the mercy of supermarket and consumer preferences. If the target fish are too small, damaged, or found to be inedible they will also be discarded by a process called high-grading, along with bycatch.

High-grading also occurs when the catch has little or no market value, or cannot be retained due to management or quota restrictions. It is very difficult to gather data for high-grading as it happens onboard ships well before reaching shore.

03. overfishing

Overfishing happens when too many fish are caught and there are not enough adults to breed and sustain a healthy population.


According to the United Nations, 17% of fish stocks worldwide are currently overexploited; 52% are fully exploited, and 7% are depleted. This means that only an estimated 20% of worldwide fish stocks are not already at or above their capacity.

Approximately 90% of fish stocks of large predatory fish are already gone, as overfishing has disproportionately targeted the largest fish at the top of the marine food chain.


04. destructive fishing practices

A common example of destructive fishing practice is that of commercial fishing vessels, that drag large nets attached to heavyweights across the sea bottom, in a process called “bottom trawling”, which is responsible for up to half of all discarded fish and marine life worldwide. Use of explosives and cyanide to ensure easy catch of fish is another destructive practice.

Additionally, pollution – especially from plastic waste and leakage from industrial sites, overfishing, and bycatching are all illegal practices that are undermining our marine environment.


What Would be the Consequence of the “Ocean Getting Empty”?

The health of the oceans is strongly dependent upon marine biodiversity. If we do not fish more responsibly, then we will be threatening the vitality of many marine species and even humans.

If the population of one species in the food chain diminishes, populations of species that prey on these fish will likely also decline. On the other hand, species that these fish typically feed on will likely grow out of control.  This is a cycle that repeats until every species in the food chain is affected. Further, this problem will only be amplified if any of these fish species go extinct.



As our oceans continue to be overfished, it is unlikely that they will be able to supply enough fish to meet the demands of our current society. Over 3 billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, so this means that many communities that depend on fish as a main source of food will be left without food.

The fishing industry also plays a large role in the global economy. Fishing accounts for the livelihoods of 10-12% of the world’s population. So, if the fishing industry dies due to low fish populations, the economy and their livelihood will take a dive as well.

Lastly, our ocean’s biodiversity is closely connected to climate change. While it is true that there is growing concern about climate change, many forget that the ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink, the lungs of the planet.


If the marine ecosystems are destroyed, large stores of carbon will be released into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change.

Are the Oceans Really Going to “Get Empty by 2048”?

Seaspiracy has been widely criticized for “sensationalizing” a 2006 study by marine ecologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, without taking into consideration his 2009 study where he states that “our oceans are not a lost cause” and that “steps are taken to curb overfishing are beginning to succeed in five of the ten large marine ecosystems” that they examined.

While this is generally good news, the study does point out that there is a troubling trend of increasing (fish) stock collapse, that among the stocks that examined, 63% remained below target and needed to be rebuilt, and that while there is ecological and economic recovery in several regions, overfishing continues to be a major problem and needs to be further brought into control.

In response to the criticism Seaspiracy says, “The overall trend is what we need to look at. So who cares if it's 2048 or 2051? The trajectory is showing that fish populations are declining overall.”


Visit this link to get an alternate take on the facts presented by Seaspiracy, in conversation with Dr. Bryce Stewart, a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist at the University of York in England.

World Oceans’ Day Film Screening & Panel Discussion – 8th June 2021

This year on World Ocean’s Day, Green Initiatives hopes to inspire our community to reconnect with our oceans. We believe that this is truly the first step to creating any real, lasting change.

Through a shortened screening of Seaspiracy, a 2021 documentary that shares insights on the environmental impact of (over)fishing, as well as featuring changemakers who are working on solutions to address some of these issues, we hope to create a more positive narrative for the future of our planet and our oceans.

The film comes with Chinese subtitles, and we hope to make the session interactive for our attendees to participate in the discussions and share their views.

Our Changemakers: 

  • Yuanfang Tang, Ocean-Inspired Jewelry Designer
  • Shaowei Liu - CSO& Co-Founder of Haofood
  • Scott Minoie, Founder, Element Fresh
  • Carrie Chan, Co-Founder & CEO, Avant Meats MBA (INSEAD)

Source: Avant Meats

Click here to get more information about this event and/or to book your spot!