WASHINGTON / ROME / PARIS, 5 June
2002 -- The UN and leading international scientific agencies
today launched a pioneering Internet-based atlas providing users
with continuously updated strategic data on the state of the
world's oceans, maps, development trends and threats to
human health from the deteriorating marine environment.
The World Environment Day launch of the UN
Oceans Atlas, follows more than 2½ years of development and a
decade of planning. The atlas represents the most ambitious
global scientific information collaboration ever online and an
international consensus-building tool expected to assist
negotiations of future marine-related agreements.
Amid mounting concern over continuing deterioration of
marine and coastal ecosystems, several of the world's
foremost ocean agencies created this new tool with the goal of
helping reverse the decline and promote the sustainable
development of oceans. Over-fishing, destruction of coastal
habitat and pollution from industry, farms and households are
endangering not only fish - the leading individual source of
animal protein in the human diet - but also marine biodiversity
and even the global climate. The Atlas will better spotlight
these and the other most acute marine issues with, in many cases
such as ice cover, links to real-time maps and tracking data.
"It is becoming increasingly clear
that to solve or prevent the world's biggest problems the
public and private sectors must come together to combine the
best they each have to offer. The Oceans Atlas does this by
combining the credibility and leadership of the United Nations
with the vast knowledge of scientific organizations to monitor,
diagnose and heal the great oceans of the world," said
Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation.
Project manager Dr. John Everett said the
Atlas is intended for a complete cross section of users - from
schoolchildren, educators and the general public to policy
makers, scientists, the media, NGOs, and resource managers
needing access to comprehensive databases.
The Atlas is designed to be an encyclopedic resource
but also the world's foremost information clearinghouse and
online forum for experts in ocean issues.
"This is the first time a community of world
scientific and academic experts has collaborated on an
information product of this breadth and depth," said
Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), which led the initiative with
principal funding of US$500,000 from the UN Foundation.
"The oceans play a crucial role in
sustaining life on earth," he added, "and
this important new tool will allow us to monitor and pay
attention to problems in a way that hasn't been possible in
the past. It will help coordinate and harmonize the work
underway in various parts of the UN and in national agencies,
academic institutions and other organizations and will serve a
major role in moving the world towards the sustainable use of
oceans for food security and human development."
The website will be supplemented by a
CD-ROM and other media, co-published with Cinegram Multimedia,
to reach broader audiences and regions where Internet access is
difficult. More than 900 topics are currently covered with 17
founding editors. Further issues and several hundred designated
topic editors will be added over time.
Administrator Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher calls the Atlas
"both a challenge and an opportunity to the ocean
community" to integrate marine protection with the
broader goals of sustainable development such as clean water,
human health and reliable food supplies. By consolidating and
achieving a consensus around marine-related information from
leading agencies and experts worldwide, the UN Atlas will form
an important informational foundation for future national and
international policy development, setting research priorities
and for intergovernmental negotiations on ocean issues.
"National governments have an
important role to play," said Adm. Lautenbacher.
"A collective commitment from all countries - such as
participation in a global initiative like the UN Atlas of Oceans
- will be needed to preserve the oceans' benefits into the
future." In addition to a wealth of information, NOAA
seconded Dr. John Everett as Project Manager and provided
support staff and funding.
Dr. Serge Garcia, Director of the FAO Fisheries Resources
Division, said the Atlas "enhances the world's
ability to form partnerships, to share and pool information with
all regions of the world, including the least developed ones,
greatly benefiting all nations concerned about sustainable use
of the oceans."
The need for the
Atlas was identified during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in
response to a call to identify and address the greatest
environmental challenges facing the planet. The launch of the
Atlas at a meeting of UNESCO's Intergovernmental
Oceanographic Commission in Paris June 5 comes less than 12
weeks before the World Summit on Sustainable Development opens
in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"Ocean-related issues will almost certainly
dominate the international agenda later this century if, as
predicted, the Earth's continued warming accelerates sea
level rise and adds up to 1 metre to the height to our
oceans," said Dr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of
the UN Environment Programme.
regions of the world are frequently fertile, densely populated
and invested with expensive infrastructure. The human and
material costs of a 1 metre sea-level rise would be huge,
affecting over 70 million people in coastal China, 10% of the
population of Egypt and 60% of the people in Bangladesh. Among
wealthier nations, over 60% of The Netherlands' population
could be affected and 15% of the people and 50% of the industry
of Japan would be threatened. In the US, 17,000 square
kilometres of wetlands, and the same amount of dry land, could
be lost - an area the size of Connecticut and New Jersey
combined. In low-lying countries like the Maldives or the
Marshall Islands, the entire population is at risk.
The Atlas contains an initial 14 global maps and links
to hundreds of others, including 264 maps showing the
distribution of fishery resources. A further 100 maps showing
global ice cover, navigation routes, earthquake and volcanic
activity, temperature gradients, bottom contours, salinity and
other ocean characteristics are being contributed by the Russian
Head Department of Navigation and Oceanography.
The National Geographic Society will likewise make a
major contribution to the Atlas, including access to its map
machine and marine-related information from its extensive
portfolio of books and magazines. The Census of Marine Life, a
global Washington-based organization working to assess and
explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine
organisms, will also make its resources fully available through
Said Dr. Garcia: "The
UN agencies and their partners have provided structure and a
great deal of content based on their own expertise. We look
forward to adding much more knowledge from ocean users,
scientists, managers and institutions around the world, and to
identifying the most qualified international editors for
Bernal, Assistant Director-General for the IOC of UNESCO and
former Chairman of the UN Subcommittee for Ocean and Coastal
Areas said: "Natural ocean processes have an impact on
every aspect of life on land. Our mission in IOC is to promote
international cooperation to learn more about the nature and
resources of the ocean and coastal areas. Built as a management
tool to aid decision-makers, the Atlas is a successful example
of cooperation among UN Agencies and international centers of
excellence. Thanks to the Atlas project, the substantial amount
of information contained in the data-bases developed by the UN
will be now available toeverybody."
Additional members of the project partnership include:
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International
Maritime Organization (IMO), World Meteorological Organization
(WMO), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and The UN
Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea.
UN Atlas of the Oceans organizes information according to
general subject areas:
* Uses - disposal of waste from
land, energy, fisheries and aquaculture, human coastal
settlements, marine biotechnology, non-consumptive uses, ocean
dumping and ship wastes, offshore oil, gas and mining,
recreation and tourism, and transportation and
* Issues - climate variability and
climate change, economics, emergencies, food security,
governance, human health, pollution and degradation, safety and
* Background - including
biology and ecology, how oceans were formed and how they are
changing, monitoring and observing systems, and maps, statistics
and online databases
* Geographical - categorizes
information according to geographic region.
Among the issues addressed:
* Fishing: all
17 of the world's major fishing areas have either reached
or exceeded their natural limits and nine are in serious
decline, according to the FAO.
* Piracy: the number
of reported piracy attacks worldwide for 1999 rose nearly 40
percent compared with the previous year and almost tripled
compared with 1991 according to the International Maritime
Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Algal blooms: The number of poisonous algal species identified
by scientists has nearly tripled since 1984, increasing fish
kills, beach closures, and economic losses. Large parts of the
Gulf of Mexico are now considered biological dead zones due to
* Coral reefs: 58 percent of the
world's coral reefs are at high or medium risk of
degradation, with more than 80 percent of South-east Asia's
extensive reef systems under threat, according to the World
* Invasive species: Marine
bio-invasions have been identified as a major global
environmental and economic problem with several thousand species
estimated to be in the ballast tanks of the world's
shipping at any one time. The Atlantic box jelly, believed to
have been released in a ship's ballast water, helped wipe
out life in the Black Sea. In San Francisco Bay, a new foreign
species takes hold every 14 weeks, scientists warn.