Covering 71% of the Earth’s surface, our oceans are a key part of our planet’s life support system. Not only are the seas a major source of food, but the oceans also produce more than half the oxygen we breathe, captures carbon and contains 90% of the earth’s total biomass. Yet our oceans and marine life are on the verge of unprecedented and irreversible destruction. That’s why we need to restore the health of our oceans.
Overfishing, pollution, bycatch and global warming have all contributed to a rapid decline in ocean resources and the degradation of marine ecosystems. Around 60% of the world’s major marine ecosystems are damaged or are being used unsustainably while every year 70 to 75 million tonnes of fish are caught from our oceans, reduced commercial fish stocks by more than 90%.
Sustainable management of the oceans and coasts is of major political concern and a number of future-just policies already exist to restore their health for future generations. Yet there remains an urgent need for wider and effective implementation of international agreements, supported by regional, national and local policies and laws, to safeguard the world’s oceans and coasts.
Restoring the health of our oceans will not only protect our complex and unique biodiversity, but also stimulate our economies, improve human security, and help reduce the effects of CO2 emissions that are fundamentally vital in halting the effects of climate change. Protecting our oceans is vital to leaving future generations with one of our most valuable and precious resources.
Governance of the oceans and coasts is complex. It is not unusual to have multiple ministries or agencies with separate mandates, policies and legislation involved in the marine environment. Additionally, the various sectors such as fisheries, the oil and gas industry, maritime transport, tourism and recreation, can have competing interests. Therefore only policies that takes into consideration all the uses, stakeholders and threats to oceans and coasts can enable long-term strategic planning for the future sustainable use of coastal and ocean resources.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are considered to be one of the most effective marine conservation tools. MPAs play a crucial role in biodiversity conservation, provide resilience in response to emerging threats, help to recover species and habitat decline and can support fisheries management.
In 2010, at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-10), the international community agreed to the Aichi Targets and committed to ensure in Target 11 that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”
Globally, marine capture fisheries are in a poor state and reform in governance is needed to rebuild fish populations and ensure functional food webs. Sustainable fisheries management, including for areas beyond national jurisdiction, must include gear restrictions as well as rules for bycatch and discards, control access to fishing grounds and create protected areas. In addition, regional and global cooperation is required for monitoring and control measures and to deter and prosecute illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.
At the interface of the land and the ocean, coasts are dynamic places that support diverse habitats. Approximately half the human population lives within 120km of the sea, including in major cities. Coastal areas worldwide face problems of degradation. Flooding and erosion are expected to increase due to global climate change and sea level rise. Coastal habitats, such as mangroves, which serve as important natural storm and flood protection for people living in coastal areas, are increasingly threatened.
Guidelines for integrated coastal zone management were first introduced at the international level in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. In many cases coastal planning and development takes places in a fragmented way and without cooperation between different sectors. This has led to unsustainable coastal development and use of coastal resources and can increase conflicts about space and the use of it. Therefore having a holistic approach, that takes into consideration geographical as well as political boundaries to coastal zone management is urgently needed.
Species are going extinct at about 1000 times faster than the natural rate, due to human disturbances: habitat loss, pollution, climate change and introduction of invasive species. In the marine environment, the loss of marine mammals, sharks and corals has been of particular concern. Loss of ‘keystone’ species can result in disproportionate effects across the ecosystem, which in turn affects the goods and services ecosystems provide – from functioning fisheries to tourism. Also, we have the obligation to ensure that the natural heritage we inherited is passed down to future generations.
WFC Oceans Survey
Anna Oposa, WFC Councillor (Philippines)
"The ocean supports life on earth - it's the source of our seafood, of many jobs, and the oxygen that we breathe. The ocean needs to be protected with a sense of urgency because it makes sense to do so. There are already several outstanding initiatives all over the world, such as policies and conservation programs. These working models give us no excuse to continue with what I like to call global whining, which means complaining about circumstances around us without doing anything to be part of the solution."