If one thing was clear to all the participants of the UN Ocean Conference, it was that only a healthy ocean with abundant marine and coastal biodiversity can sustain life on earth and help curb climate change.
The ocean plays an important role in mitigating global warming by capturing carbon in large quantities thanks to its marine organisms. Mangroves, marshes and algae contribute between 50% and 70% in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
The Carbon is then deposited in marine sediments, as explained in the UNESCO document "Blue Carbon" published in 2019.
One of the strategies to promote the health of the seas around the world is what is colloquially known as 30×30. Achieve the protection of at least 30% of both terrestrial and marine habitat by the year 2030. A demand supported by science, claimed by civil organizations, and which achieved announcements and commitments among some countries present at the conference.
"Protecting at least 30% of the marine habitat by 2030 is a goal that is paradoxical," said the international ocean policy expert, Chilean Maximiliano Bello, in an interview for Argentina at the Altice Arena, where the conference was held.
Bello, who was present for the organization Mission Blue, refers to the fact that this preservation objective must still be reviewed and approved in the second part of the fifteenth plenary meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in the United Nations to be held in Canada in December 2022. According to the World Registry of Marine Species, around 238,000 known species live in the ocean and there is 91% that are not yet known to science.
Protected marine areas are necessary to recover damaged marine ecosystems because they enable connection processes between them. They are the highways through which the organisms of the seas travel, from the smallest such as krill to large mammals such as whales. They also allow fish populations that have been decimated by overfishing to regenerate.
This rehabilitation of the ocean is absolutely necessary for coastal communities that live solely on those resources.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), four hundred and ninety-two million people in the world depend on small-scale fishing for their livelihood. "Small-scale or artisanal fishermen fish with small boats in the vicinity of the port where they set sail," said Cristina Pita, a researcher at the Center for Environmental and Marine Studies (Cesam) in Portugal. “If the resource becomes extinct, the impact on the lives of those families or communities is enormous,” she explained during a workshop organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and Diálogo Chino at a downtown Lisbon hotel.
During the five days that the Ocean conference lasted, four Latin American countries with a coast on the Pacific Ocean: Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia, announced the establishment and implementation of more marine protected areas. "The four countries aligned visions based on what science has been reflecting" said Bianca Dager, Vice Minister of Environment of Ecuador in an interview.
"The most valuable thing about the summits is what happens outside the main plenary sessions where the bilateral meetings between the countries allow speeding up decisions that would otherwise take more time," he reflected.
"By uniting and recognizing the existence of marine corridors among countries, it is possible to carry out joint actions," said Maximiliano Bello, one of the promoters of the Pacific Agreement that was concluded at the Summit of the Americas in California, United States last June.
"Countries must not only promise, they must take action and enter into a healthy competition of who cares the most to restore ecosystems, this is the ambition," he concluded.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference Fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch). It was originally published in Portuguese by Periodistas Ambientales on July 6, 2022. It has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: The Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal, the venue for the UN Ocean Conference 2022 / Credit: Gabriela Vizental.