“The living world cannot operate without a healthy ocean, and neither can we”.
This quote from David Attenborough is a sentiment evidently shared by the 14 countries of the Ocean Panel, who announced ambitious plans to sustainably manage 100% of the oceans under their national jurisdictions by 2025. This announcement comes at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis, and is welcome spark of hope and positive news for measurable change.
The oceans are beautiful environments home to more than half of all life on earth. From the water we drink, to the food we eat and the air we breathe, the oceans are linked to all aspects our lives – it even drives our weather, stabilises the climate and is critical in our battle to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. The detrimental impact of human activities on our ocean’s health is irrefutable, and we have been taking it for granted for far too long.
Established in September 2018 with the aim of accelerating action worldwide, the heads of states from the 14 nations had planned 14 gatherings to discuss how to chart a course to a sustainable ocean economy. While these plans to meet were upended by the pandemic, it did not halt the progression towards their goals. Through the now ubiquitous use of video conferencing, the group endorsed and released details of a far-reaching pact that aims to protect the worlds oceans. In addition to pledging to sustainably managing 100% of the oceans under their jurisdiction by 2025, they have also vowed to grant 30% of their oceans marine protected status by 2030.
The Ocean Panel members span all ocean basins from the tropics to the Arctic and are diverse in terms of economic development and size thus offering unique perspectives, but with the common thread of having a culture deeply entwined with the ocean. The 14 member countries are Australia, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Portugal, and the island nations of Fiji, Jamaica, and Palau. Although 14 out of the 195 countries worldwide do not sound like a formidable force, together they represent 40% of the world’s coastlines, 20% of the world’s fisheries, and a combined ocean area equating to roughly the size of the continent of Africa.
The Ocean Panel draws on the latest scientific research, including insights from 253 ocean research scientists and 19 Ocean-Panel commissioned paper papers to create a narrative that informed their ambitious plans. There is currently a range of 74 actions, including restoring mangroves, kelp beds, and seagrasses that absorb carbon thus offsetting emissions, to new technology which is already enabling Ghana to crack down on illegal fishing. Other actions aim to restore fish populations, halting the flow of plastic waste, improving agricultural regulation, investing into sewage and waste management, and much more.
It is not a choice between protecting the ocean and using it, through proper management and support we can use the ocean instead of using it up. An estimated 82% of the world fish stocks are depleted, having drastic impacts on the ecosystems beyond the ocean. The 14 leaders say that the time for small steps has passed and no longer can we only protect small fractions of the oceans and expect that to be enough – for the oceans to recover and rebuild we need to ensure the entire ocean does not deteriorate further.
For years we believed the oceans were too big to feel the impact of human activities, we then believed that they were too complex to understand and therefore support but achieving a healthy ocean ecosystem is possible. While we look to recover from the pandemic, we need to look to our natural world and work out how we can help it to recover too.
If you would like to get volunteer in programmes that will help contribute to a healthy ocean ecosystem, check out the projects available with WorkingAbroad. From coral reef monitoring and marine conservation in Mauritius to monitoring and researching leatherback sea turtles in the Caribbean, there are so many projects you can get involved with.
Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Emily Bowen