I wish that I had known when I first started my career that some of the wonderful marine habitats that I encountered during my diving exploits would be short lived. I took those experiences very much for granted and often find myself reminiscing about being surrounded by shoals of fish and vast tracts of coral reef.
Of course you can still experience that in some parts of the world, and there has been much progress in terms of conserving some of our more biodiverse and renowned spots. But those localised and important wins are increasingly being overshadowed by the severe decline in ocean health. And the people most reliant on marine goods and services, coastal communities and maritime business and industry, are all too aware of that.
When considering the sheer size of the ocean, over 70% of our Blue Planet, it is no surprise that it has such a significant role in terms of supporting national and global economies, livelihoods and food security. Not to mention our ocean’s critical role in regulating climate and absorbing carbon. But declining fish stocks, anoxic conditions, red tides, storm surges, whale strandings, discards, decimated sea floors and plastic soup are all becoming common features of our modern ocean environment; each one negatively affecting the bottom line or basic needs of millions. And the cumulative impacts of these are affecting the ocean’s ability to recover. Every day of inaction leads to a loss of assets and growth opportunities.
Capture fisheries alone support more than 260 million full and part-time jobs and provide a critical source of protein for over a billion people in the developing world. But the World Bank have indicated that overfishing is leading to a substantial loss in global revenue; an estimated USD$50 billion annually. With demand for seafood expected to double in the next 20 years, current fishing practices and governance regimes are a significant threat to food security and livelihoods.
WWF’s latest report “Reviving the Ocean Economy” today highlights the real value of our oceans and the lost opportunities from over-exploitation, pollution and climate change. Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, an eminent scientist from the University of Queensland, and the Boston Consulting Group conservatively estimate that:
“the range of goods and services that flow from coastal and oceanic environments can be valued at US$2.5 trillion each year, and the overall value of the ocean as an asset is at least 10 times that.”
According to the National Ecosystem Assessment, the UK’s marine biodiversity alone is believed to contribute £1.7bn to the national economy every year.
The latest report goes on to provide 8 clear steps to achieving the ocean’s full potential, highlighting the key role that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can play in achieving recovery. This was also the conclusion of the UK’s Natural Capital Committee, which recommended the designation an ‘ecologically coherent network’ of MPAs in the UK to ensure healthy, productive and biodiverse seas. Following a long and extensive consultation process, 127 Marine Conservation Zones were recommended to be established in English seas. Nevertheless, to date only 27 have been designated. If we want to ensure the future of our seas and reach our marine-based economic potential, it is critical that the next tranche of 23 sites is designated this year; along with the remaining sites in subsequent tranches.
Ambitions for future growth
Our ambitions for future growth are well articulated, but the route is less well defined and a focus on short-term gains has led to substantial longer-term challenges. With land and land-based resources at a premium, the ocean offers real opportunities for growth. But whilst world leaders are beginning to wake up to the ocean’s full potential, there is still strong political inertia to commit resources to sustainable ocean management. A Sustainable Development Goal for Oceans would go some way to cementing the global commitments needed to support long-term ocean health and the well-being of millions. It is critical that this is fully adopted during the UN negotiations in September this year.
For the ocean to reach its full long-term economic potential, both the public and private sector must significantly invest in the long-term recovery and sustainable management of our ocean, as well as to fully embrace the role of stewardship as we build a future ocean-based economy.