The new Living Blue Planet Report launched today – Wednesday 16 September – highlights that the population size of marine vertebrates has nearly halved since 1970. The overwhelming conclusion is that our oceans are in crisis.
Overfishing, damage to habitats, pollution and climate change are clearly impacting significantly on marine biodiversity. And populations of fish critical to human food security are also suffering serious declines. Reef fish populations alone have reduced in size by 34% between 1979 and 2010, not surprising when you consider that we have already lost 50% of our coral reefs in the last 30 years. With escalating sea temperatures and ocean acidification, we could also potentially see the loss of all of our coral reefs in most areas by 2050.
Having worked in marine conservation around the world for many years, I have had the privilege to see first-hand how our oceans provide significant social and economic benefit to millions of people in coastal communities, as well as thousands of maritime businesses and industries. But these results are pointing to major threats to food security and the livelihoods of many coastal populations. In short, we are overusing and mismanaging are oceans, which is not only negatively affecting the bottom line and basic needs of millions, but is also affecting the ocean’s ability to recover.
Oceans have been low down as a political priority for just too long. It is critical that governments take action now to underpin the recovery of our oceans. Many solutions already exist, but there is a strong need to garner political will and provide the resources needed to achieve recovery both in the UK and further afield, where we have a significant footprint.
The new Sustainable Development Oceans Goal will be agreed by the world’s leaders in the next couple of weeks and offers a great opportunity to achieve strong and more sustainable management of our oceans – if implemented. In particular – by implementing existing commitments to networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in at least 10% of our oceans – we would provide opportunities for representative ocean habitats and species to recover, regenerating dwindling populations. And there is evidence ‘that this level of MPA coverage could also provide economic benefits of up to US$490 billion in the next 35 years.
The impacts of climate change, including ocean warming and ocean acidification, are probably most concerning in terms of the future trajectory of ocean health. It is critical that a strong climate deal is agreed in Paris in December if oceans are to recover.
Whilst the government plays a key role in establishing strong ocean recovery measures, the private sector can also play a vital stewardship role. Public-Private sector partnerships could offer opportunities to invest in recovery whilst achieving a long-term social or economic return on investment. In addition, 80% of pollution is derived from the land. By adopting more closed loop approaches, companies can substantially reduce their impacts on the ocean. And we all have a role to play in that. For example, by adopting the old adage ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, we can make an important contribution to reducing the amount of plastic entering into the marine environment. In addition, by choosing and asking for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) fish, available now at most fish retailers, you are providing a market demand for sustainable fish.
By underpinning strong sustainable management and substantially reducing the known impacts, recovery of our oceans can be achieved. We have already seen North Sea cod stocks on an upward trajectory because of the strong management measures implemented through the cod recovery plan. So, whilst the picture is bleak, solutions do exist to ensure that we can all benefit from what our magnificent oceans have to offer well into the future. But we need to change the tide in terms of garnering the political will to implement them.
Want to know more: read our Living Blue Planet report today.