Credit: Marek Okon
As the UN ushers in this decade of the ocean, safeguarding marine environments and protecting the world’s oceans is moving to the front and centre of climate change action policy.
With over 40 countries signed up to protect 30 percent of our oceans by 2030, the second UN Ocean Conference taking place in 2022, and dramatic changes in public lifestyles in the wake of popular documentaries such as Blue Planet, End of the Line, and Seaspiracy, there are signs of tangible change occurring. However, there’s still a long road ahead.
Though oceans cover over 70 percent of the Earth, they are largely ignored by major environmental movements and policy. As a result, not only have fish stocks and marine environments suffered from centuries of exploitation due to unsustainable fishing practices, coastal development and marine pollution, but climate change has exacerbated rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and wholesale changes to many coastal and marine landscapes worldwide.
These profound changes have the potential to upset many of the vital functions that humans unknowingly rely on every day. For example, the ocean is pivotal in supplying the oxygen to the air we breathe, along with transporting heat from the equator around the globe and providing the necessary conditions for some of the largest animal habitats on Earth.
Marine destruction has the potential to disrupt economies around the world as many countries are dependent on their own ‘Blue Economy’. With 40 percent of the world’s population living within 100km of the ocean, it’s unsurprising that millions of livelihoods, estimated to be worth USD 3-6 trillion annually, rely upon the oceans from tourism to the seafood industry and transportation.
Three Key Priorities
For Palladium’s Director of Climate, Environment and Natural Resources, Terry Green, there are three key priorities for governments, organisations, and foundations to focus on when it comes to protecting the ocean. “First, ongoing and future efforts for ocean protection must ensure the health of marine biodiversity and ecosystems so that livelihoods of both fishing and coastal communities can thrive in coming years,” notes Green.
“Second, regulation of the fishing industry needs to be radically overhauled to prevent unsustainable and exploitative practices especially around illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.”
“And third, global collective action needs to step up to tackle the sources and drivers of marine pollution significantly,” he adds. Essential marine biodiversity and organisms provide vital economic, environmental, cultural and ecological benefits and contribute to many critical environmental processes that have direct and indirect effects on the health of the oceans and, resultingly, humans.
But it’s easy to see where ocean biodiversity is dying. Look to the degradation of coral reefs, which are the most important natural habitats on Earth, as they support more species per unit than any other habitat. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, known as the largest living structure on Earth, was once teeming with life and colour. However, in recent years, this natural wonder has been degraded due to rising sea temperatures, coral bleaching, overexploitation and marine pollution.
As Green notes, another main driver of worsening ocean health has been the decades-long overexploitation of fish stocks. With ever-improving technology, increasing demands and worsening practices, fish populations have come under intense pressure, and some fish stocks have collapsed entirely in recent years. In addition, current fishing practices are frequently cited as responsible for widespread marine habitat destruction, oceanic sound and chemical pollution, as well as common instances of bycatch of vulnerable species such as sharks, turtles, dolphins, and porpoises.
Despite notable progress in efforts worldwide to reduce unsustainable fishing practices, the challenges of surveilling and policing such an expansive environment such as the oceans means the fishing industry requires a significant overhaul before substantive benefits to fish stock and marine habitats are realised.
Similar to the harrowing images of the destructive fishing industry, marine pollution has also garnered significant public attention in recent years. There is a growing threat of micro and nano plastics entering the food chain and plastic debris disrupting marine habitats essential for ocean health, and it’s estimated there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.
Moving Forward with Policies for Protection
As the UK prepares to host COP26 in Glasgow, the Government has recently taken the lead in promoting the importance of marine protection through funding, awareness-raising and action. Through the establishment of the Global Oceans Alliance and championing the “30by30” commitment that aims for a minimum 30 percent of the global ocean to be protected through Marine Protected Areas by 2030, the UK has set itself as a standard-bearer for driving marine protection to the fore of global priorities.
Recently, Lord Zac Goldsmith, UK International Environment Minister, announced that the UK has become a full member of the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance. “Ocean action is climate action. This is why we continue to champion global efforts towards marine protection,” he noted.
Further encouraging signs from the UK have come from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ recent announcement of a GBP 500 million Blue Planet Fund to help countries reduce poverty through the protection and sustainable management of their marine resources.
Alongside the UK’s efforts, other countries have committed to supporting efforts that enhance marine protection globally. The Australian government has committed funding to the Pacific Ocean Litter Project, the Coral Triangle Initiative, and the AUD 2 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program to tackle IUU fishing practices in the region, and USAID has invested over USD 30 million annually to promote sustainable fisheries and conserve marine biodiversity across several programs.
But it’s not just governments that have stepped up. Many organisations and groups have been making vital contributions to ocean and marine protection advocacy for decades. From inspirational acts of defiance and daring stunts, these groups have been instrumental in driving public awareness and demand for greater ocean protection and improved marine conservation efforts globally.
The seemingly overwhelming task of addressing the variety of these marine issues will require further coordinated and international efforts across sectors to protect our precious oceans successfully. While there is a long road ahead, recent government actions to focus more heavily on protecting our oceans and the surging public attention towards the seas are a cause for optimism in the forthcoming UN decade of the ocean and beyond.
Daniel Davies is a Senior Associate in the Climate, Environment & Natural Resources team for EMEA. His roles at Palladium include as Project Manager for the MFP4 program in Indonesia as well as supporting the Nature-Based Solutions team. Laurence Thorn-Dalton is an Analyst on the Climate, Environment & Natural Resources team and is currently working across multiple projects including MFP4, UK PACT and FLEGT.
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