The tragic loss of large tracts of the Iconic Great Barrier Reef over the last few months has brought to mind something that a friend from India recently told me. Whilst giving a talk to school children on board a boat off the coast of Goa, she heard one of the children exclaim how unfair it was that it had all gone. It really resonated with me, and reminded me how powerful voices from young people can be.
Kaia Kapfer is the 13 year old daughter of a colleague who eloquently lends her voice to the importance of this day:
“There are many reasons why the ocean is vital us. But why do we love it? Is it because of the spiritual awakening and calm the ocean brings us? Are we drawn to it because we need it, or do we just love its everlasting waves? I love the ocean because of the beautiful creatures living in it and its mesmerizing waters, constantly changing colour from deep hues of blue to crystal sea greens.
As an aspiring marine veterinarian, I of course love every animal in the sea and feel as if I connect with them. In fact, I had an amazing experience with a green turtle at an aquarium last year. I had seen it swimming, waved to it, and then walked towards the exhibit exit. To my astonishment, it had followed me, a random stranger, to the other side of the tank, where it touched gently down into the sand. It moved me how beautiful the turtle was.
I firmly believe we should protect the ocean and its inhabitants. That is what World Ocean Day is about. It is a single day in the year, to really think about how much the oceans have given us. Incredible experiences and (yes) food are just a few things we have been gifted from the oceans. It’s about thanking the sea for all the gifts it has brought us. So next time you have nothing to do, help clean the ocean, or even donate to an organisation like the WWF-UK if you don’t have an ocean near you. Good luck, and enjoy the ocean as long as you can!”.
Kaia provides such an inspiring message and there is good cause to celebrate. The past year has seen some real progress for our oceans, with world leaders agreeing a new global Oceans Goal at the UN Sustainable Development negotiations last September. This commitment finally gives Oceans the recognition they deserve for the fundamental role they play in supporting human well-being.
In December, the UN Climate Change summit held in Paris highlighted the impact climate change is having on our oceans, and made some critical decisions towards reducing carbon emissions.
Great strides were also made at the beginning of May this year when Governments from around the world agreed for the first time to implement catch controls for skipjack tuna in the Indian Ocean. Reductions in the catch of yellow fin tuna were also agreed in an attempt to address rising concerns about their status. And it isn’t only environmental NGOs who care about this. 38 major retailers from across Europe also called for stronger management measures for tuna on the run up to the meeting, reflecting their concerns for the long-term future of tuna fisheries.
Ending the year on a good note, the new UN Port State Measures Agreement came into force this week, an agreement that will substantially curtail illegal fishing activities, a major contributor to global overfishing.
If implemented effectively, all these political commitments will substantially influence how oceans are managed in future, providing potential long-term gains for billions of people who rely on oceans for their livelihoods and food supply. Their influence will take some time to be felt, but I really do hope that the younger generation don’t feel resigned to a future of depleted oceans.
Our oceans have an amazing ability to regenerate if they are well managed. But if future generations are to benefit from them, as we have, we will need sustained collaboration, research and innovation. Marine robots like Thomas demonstrate how exciting new technologies will enable us to better understand our oceans and guide important decisions on how to effectively manage them.
So, I wish you a Happy World Oceans Day and look forward to another year of putting oceans firmly in the spotlight!