Healthy Oceans, Healthy Societies

Approximately three billion people around the world depend on
marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods as fisheries
alone generates over 360 billion dollars to the global economy.
However, human activity continues to threaten this crucial
landscape including through overfishing. Credit: Nalisha

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Over recent years, there have been shocking reports of marine
endangerment and plastic pollution. The threats are clear, and now
urgent action is needed more than ever.

Marking World Wildlife
on Mar. 3 with its theme “Life below water”, the United
Nations has stressed the need to promote and sustain ocean
conservation not simply to protect underwater life, but also

“‘Life below water’ may sound far away from our daily
life; a subject best left to scientists and marine biologists; but
it is anything but,” said President of the General Assembly Maria
Fernanda Espinosa.

“Increasingly we are coming to understand how connected our
world is and how much impact our actions are having on the oceans,
on the rivers and waterways, and in turn on the wildlife, above and
below water, that have come to rely on them,” she added.

Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Higuero echoed similar sentiments, stating: “When we think about
wildlife, most of us picture elephants, rhinos, and tigers…but we
should not forget about life below water and the important
contribution they make to sustainable development, as enshrined in
Goal 14 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.”

The oceans and its critters have been among the foundations of
human societies. Approximately three billion people around the
world depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their
livelihoods as fisheries alone generates over 360 billion dollars
to the global economy.

More than that, oceans help regulate the climate, producing 50
percent of the world’s oxygen and absorbing 30 percent of carbon
dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Yet, human activity continues to threaten this crucial landscape
including through overfishing.

According to the U.N., around 30 percent of fish stocks are
overexploited, often at unsustainable levels. While some policies
are in place to reduce overfishing, illegal fishing is still

Illegal and unregulated fishing constitutes an estimated 12 to
30 percent of fishing worldwide.

For instance, the high prices of caviar has fuelled illegal
overfishing and near extinction of species of sturgeon and

The International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
has listed 16 of the 27 species
of sturgeon and one of the six species of paddlefish as

Espinosa particularly pointed to the issue of plastic pollution
in oceans which has become a growing concern worldwide.

“Every minute a garbage truck worth of plastic makes its way
to the sea. Some of this plastic remains in its original form,
while much more is broken down into microplastics that are consumed
by fish and other creatures, eventually finding their way into our
own food, our own water,” she said.

“This is not the way we treat our home, our planet. This is
not the way we maintain a sustainable and healthy ecosystem,”
Espinosa added.

An estimated 5 to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean
every year and many have ended up on the beaches of the world’s
most isolated islands and others in the guts of whales and sea

Even in the 7-mile deep Mariana Trench, research found all
specimens had plastic in their gut.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur
, the oceans could have more plastic than fish by
2050 if current trends continue.

But through the dark clouds, there is a glimmer of hope as civil
society organisations, U.N. agencies, and governments band together
to protect oceans.

Launched by U.N.
Environment (UNEP)
, the Clean Seas campaign is now the
world’s largest global alliance for combating marine plastic
pollution with commitments covering over 60 percent of the
world’s coastlines.

The 57 countries who have joined the campaign have pledged to
cut back on single-use plastics and encourage more recycling.

Already, many governments have taken up the challenge.

In December, Peru decided to phase out single-use plastic bags
over the next three years.

In the U.S., cities such as Seattle and Washington, D.C. have
implemented a ban on plastic straws and businesses could receive
fines if they continue to offer the items.

Though this makes up only a small fraction of the marine plastic
pollution issue, such low-hanging fruit seems to be the best place
to start.

International non-profit organisation Global Fishing Watch has
established an online platform where they record and publish data
on the activity of fishing boats, providing a map of hot spots
where overfishing might occur and who is responsible.

After recording data on more than 40 million hours of fishing in
2016 alone, they found that just five countries and territories
including China, Spain, and Japan account for more than 85 percent
of observed fishing.

The Environmental Defence Fund
, on the other hand, has utilised a rights-based
management approach, working directly with fishermen who receive a
secure “catch share” upon complying to strict limits that allow
fish populations to rebuild.

This approach has helped combat the issue of overfishing, which
has dropped 60 percent since 2000 in the United States, and
provides stable fishing jobs with increased revenue.

For instance, EDF worked with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico
where red snapper stocks were overexploited and continually
declined. Scientists determined a sustainable threshold to catch
red snapper which was then divided into shares and allocated to the

With strict limits as to how much to fish, the red snapper
population quickly flourished and by 2013, it was taken off the
“avoid” list organised by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Higuero also highlighted the role CITES which regulates
international trade in marine species, ensuring it is sustainable
and legal.

“Well-managed and sustainable international trade greatly
contributes to livelihoods and the conservation of marine
species…we are all striving to achieve the same objective of
sustainability: for people and planet – where wildlife, be it
terrestrial or marine, can thrive in the wild while also benefiting
people,” she said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed to the importance of
marine life for current and future societies.

“Marine species provide indispensable ecosystem services…let
us raise awareness about the extraordinary diversity of marine life
and the crucial importance of marine species to sustainable
development.  That way, we can continue to provide these services
for future generations,” he said.

The post Healthy
Oceans, Healthy Societies
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Healthy Oceans, Healthy Societies