Protecting oceans for a common future

The oceans nurture biodiversity and provide food, mineral resources and energy needed for life on the planet. However, the oceans are facing unprecedented threats from human activities, which have grown rapidly along with the world’s population.

Domestic wastewater is a serious source of ocean pollution. (Photo: MONGABAY)
Domestic wastewater is a serious source of ocean pollution. (Photo: MONGABAY)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who chaired the opening ceremony of the recent Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal declared a state of emergency and urged governments to take action to reverse the alarming degradation of the oceans.

With the participation of many leaders, experts and heads of state from more than 20 countries, this year’s conference aims to promote innovative science-based solutions to address climate change, save the oceans and protect global biodiversity.

At the Ocean Conference, Secretary-General AntonioGuterres frankly admitted fault to future generations for the state of the planet at present. According to the head of the United Nations, his generation, who are politically responsible, is still going in the wrong direction and acting too slowly compared with the urgency in reversing threats and restoring the health of the oceans, savingbiodiversity and preventing the consequences of climate change.

Since humanity started burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases, the oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere, as a consequence, coral reefs are destroyed and wiped out by mass bleaching.

The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) State of the Global Climate Report 2021 warned the world is at a crossroads, as sea levels warm and rise, and the levels of acidification increase, not to mention the record high concentration of greenhouse gases. Marine pollution is out of control, with millions of tonnes of plastic entering the oceans every year.

Marine species are in rapid decline, with more than 37% of the world’s sharks and rays, 33% of coral reefs, 26% of mammals and 21% of reptiles now threatened with extinction. UN scientists also sounded the alarm of the first mass extinction in 65 million years, if the world does not act more decisively.

According to the US-based NGO Oceana, at least 30% of wild fish stocks are overfished and less than 10% of the ocean is currently protected. Illegal fishing vessels are still blatantly operating in many seas around the world. In addition to fishing restrictions, this year’s Ocean Conference also discussed a joint memorandum of understanding regarding deep-sea mining for rare metals.

The world currently knows too little about deep-sea ecosystems, which are very vulnerable and can take decades to restore once damaged, experts say. Another issue at the Ocean Conference is “blue food” - a new concept meaning that fishing in any form (natural or farmed) must ensure sustainability and social responsibility.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) or Ocean Decade in 2017. The Ocean Decade’s vision is to change humanity’s relationship with the oceans in a context where most of the ocean remains unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored.

The United Nations Oceans Decade is a common framework to ensure ocean science research, by establishing a new foundation on the science-policy interface that can assist countries in the sustainable management of ocean and coastal resources for the common good of mankind.