Today is World Oceans Day, a celebration of the importance of our oceans to humanity. Our blue planet is so named as the oceans occupy over 70% of the surface of the earth and plunge to depths of over 11 km. That’s over 2 km greater than the height of Everest.
It’s no surprise the oceans have the highest biodiversity on the planet and provide a wealth of food, energy, and other critical goods and services to support many of our basic needs and the livelihoods of billions of people. Not to mention supporting millions of lucrative ocean-based businesses and industries.
Given the vast expanse of the oceans, we have often viewed them as being limitless in terms of resources and in their ability to dilute pollution. But it is becoming increasingly evident that our oceans have been vastly overexploited and severely mismanaged.
Many of us have perhaps noticed obvious signs of this over exploitation. The increasingly diminishing size of the fish finding their way to our plates – for instance – or permanently damaged coral reefs we might visits whilst on holiday.
Large tracts of sea are now considered to be ‘dead’.
Subtle changes to the oceans over the last few decades are indicating that they are in significant distress. Some species are starting to migrate or extend their range, and some are being directly negatively affected by changes in the ocean temperature and acidity. This is a direct result of the oceans absorbing higher levels of heat and carbon due to climate related impacts. There are even indications that tropical coral reefs could become a thing of the past if we don’t do something now to reduce carbon emissions.
But when considering the value of the oceans, we simply cannot afford the cost of inaction. Our recent report – Reviving the Ocean Economy – highlighted that the oceans have a value of US$24 trillion, that is an annual output of goods and services of US$2.5 trillion per year.
The fact is, that if governments and private sector undertook some important steps today, the oceans could continue to provide for us in the long term. Not least, expanding ocean protection could increase social and economic goods and services that far outweigh the costs. According to our new report ‘Marine Protected Areas: Smart Investments in Ocean Health’, protecting 10-30% of our oceans could result in net benefits of between US$490 billion and US$920 billion over the next 35 years.
Every dollar invested to create MPAs could potentially be tripled in terms of social and economic benefits.
At present, only 3.4 per cent of our oceans are designated for protection despite there being a global commitment to achieve 10% by 2020. And many MPAs lack effective management or coherence. Governments urgently need to prioritise the establishment of networks of MPAs and invest in their management to reap long-term benefits.
Whilst the UK is making reasonable progress – with 16% of its seas designated as protected – much more needs to be done to ensure the UK Government achieves its commitment to a network of well-managed and ecologically coherent sites.
World Ocean Day really does represent an important day in terms of celebrating our oceans, but most importantly in bringing urgent attention to the need to conserve, manage and most importantly value our oceans.
To hear more about the importance of oceans to national and global economies, livelihoods and food security, we are co-hosting an event tonight ‘Realising the Potential of our Oceans’ at the Royal Geographical Society. The discussion will focus on how governments, communities and the private sector can respond to the many challenges our ocean is facing. Register for the event and get more information on Eventbrite.