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Ten proposals to safeguard the ocean

UN Agencies call on States and the international community for renewed commitment

Photo: ©FAO/Paballo Thekiso
A scene from coastal Mozambique. Millions of fishermen depend on healthy ocean ecosystems.
1 November 2011 Paris  - UN agencies are launching today a plan to improve the management of oceans and coastal areas. The Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability sounds the alarm about the health of the oceans, and explains how they influence our everyday life by regulating the climate, providing highly-nutritious food and by sustaining livelihoods and economies. It recalls that although the ocean accounts for 70 per cent of the surface of our planet, only one per cent of it is protected.

Presented at UNESCO Headquarters during the 36th session of the General Conference, the Blueprint was prepared for consideration by the UN conference on sustainable development (Rio+20, June 2012).

It proposes a series of concrete measures to:

  • Create a global blue carbon market as a means of creating direct economic gain through habitat protection
  • Fill governance gaps in the high seas, by reinforcing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,
  • Support the development of green economies in small island developing states
  • Promote research on ocean acidification- how to adapt to it and mitigate it.
  • Increase institutional capacity for scientific monitoring of oceans and coastal areas
  • Reform and reinforce regional ocean management organisations
  • Promote responsible fisheries and aquaculture in a green economy
  • Strengthen legal frameworks to address aquatic invasive species
  • "Green" the nutrient economy (fertilizers for example)
  • Enhance coordination, coherence and effectiveness of the UN system on ocean issues

The Blueprint was prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It emphasises that 60 per cent of the world's major marine ecosystems have been degraded or are being used unsustainably, resulting in huge economic and social losses. Mangrove forests have lost 30 to 50 per cent of their original cover while coral reefs have lost 20 per cent, increasing the vulnerability of many highly populated coastal areas. The ocean absorbs close to 26 per cent of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions which is provoking acidification that is already threatening some varieties of plankton and poses a threat to the entire marine food chain and dependant socio-economic activities.

Some of these phenomena are not new but are aggravated by cumulative pressures such as climate change, intensified human activity and technological advances. Furthermore, ecosystems situated in the deep ocean, where biodiversity and habitats often have major value, but are generally not well understood, have virtually no protection at all.

The international community pledged to tackle these challenges at the Summits of Rio (1992) and Johannesburg (2002). However the commitments made remain largely ineffectual and their objectives have not been met. Such has been the case for the pledge to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015, and the promise to create networks of protected marine areas by 2012. Few countries have adopted legislation to reduce land-based marine pollution, leading to an increase in the number of dead ocean areas. More than 400 marine areas have been listed as "biologically dead" to date.

"The full implementation of many of these goals and targets will require further efforts by States, intergovernmental organizations and the international community,"  state the authors of  the report. They claim the present situation is the result of insufficient political will and resources, inadequate institutional capacities, insufficient scientific data and  market imbalances.

"Greening the Blue Economy will be science and technology driven," they conclude. "But success will depend on sound policy processes and effective institutional arrangements and will therefore require commitment and funding from the international community as well as nations and industry".