The health of the world’s ocean is in a dangerous decline due to the devastating impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing and pollution, according to the Global Ocean Commission report released this week.
The report “From Decline to Recovery-A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean” of the commission that compromise of Heads of State, government ministers and business people warned that urgent action is needed within five years to reverse the cycle of decline.
“ What we found was cause for alarm. The ocean is under threat, and humanity’s approach to it is uncontrolled,” read the foreword to the report by commission co-chairs Jose Maria Figueres, Trevor Manuel and David Miliband. “ Governance is woefully inadequate, and on the high seas, anarchy rules the waves. Technological advance, combined with a lack of regulation, is widening the gap between rich and poor as those countries that can, exploit dwindling resources while those that can’t experience the consequences of those actions.
They stressed that regional stability, food security, climate resilience, and the children’s future are all under threat.
The global ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the surface area of the Earth comprising 1.3 billion kilometers of water and around three billion of people rely for their livelihood where 97 percent live in developing countries.
The report identified lack of adequate governance on the high seas in terms of improving the management of growing threats and risks to biodiversity, ecosystems and fishery resources.
When the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – the ‘constitution for the ocean’ – was negotiated, the high seas was protected by its inaccessibility. Today, there is virtually nowhere that industrial fishing vessels cannot reach, offshore oil and gas drilling is extending further and deeper every year, and deep sea mineral extraction is fast becoming a reality, the report stated.
The concept of the ‘freedom of the high seas’ guaranteed in the Convention once conjured up images of adventure and opportunity, but it is now driving a relentless ‘tragedy of the commons’, characterized by the depletion of fish stocks and other precious marine resources.
High seas fishing, for instance, carried out by 10 nations, including the United States, European Union, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines are responsible for unregulated and illegal fishing.
“ Each year that it is allowed to thrive, illegal fishing on the high seas is progressively stripping oceans of fish stocks and further threatening the food security of over a billion people, mostly in the developing world,” the report said.
However, it said that the overall extent of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the high seas is difficult to estimate, largely because much of it is unreported or illegal. The most reputable estimate suggests that these fishing activities on the high seas is worth US$1.25 billion annually. However, the report said that should the exclusive economic zones are included, the estimate increases to a sum between US$10 and US$23.5 billion annually.
According to a recent interview with Philippine marine expert Rodel Subade, “the threat of losing our biodiversity is really serious.”
“For the threat to be stopped, we would need the participation of all stakeholders, particularly the people in the community near the biodiversity areas. But this is difficult to attain or sustain,” Subade said. “Re-education or an information campaign needed to be strengthened, coupled with the introduction of alternative livelihood, which would complement biodiversity conservation.”
Going back to the Global Ocean Commission report, it points out some proposals to reverse the degradation of the world’s ocean.
- A United Nations sustainable development goal for the ocean that highlights a healthy living ocean at the heart of development;
- Governing the high seas through promoting care and recovery;
- No more overfishing through ending harmful high seas subsidies;
- Closing seas, ports and markets to avert illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing;
- Keeping plastics out of the ocean;
- Establishing binding international safety standards and liability in tackling offshore oil and gas;
- Monitoring progress toward a healthy ocean through establishing global ocean accountability board;
- Creating a high seas regeneration zone.