We stand at a critically important time in the history of our planet and more specifically our ocean. The science is now very clear that the ocean's health is declining. Devastating though that is, we do know that solutions exist if we are willing to work together.
I had the honor recently of chairing a unique panel whose task it was to think through the fate of the ocean from every angle -- social, economic, ecological, political. Convened by the World Bank, the Blue Ribbon Panel was no ordinary panel for two reasons. Firstly, the focus was the whole ocean as a system, not as a sector, ecosystem or region. Secondly, it brought together one of the most diverse sets of distinguished leaders from government, civil society, academia and business. Government leaders sitting with scientists, conservationists with seafood companies, entrepreneurs with non-government organisations.
Why might this be important?
The ocean is a single entity. It is literally the heart and lungs of the planet -- there is no existence without it. Covering over 70 percent of the planet, the ocean provides jobs to at least 350 million people and food to over 1 billion worldwide. Roughly 60 percent of global gross national product comes from areas within 100km of the ocean. Coastal and ocean habitats absorb carbon, produce oxygen and moderate the climate to make the planet inhabitable by humans
However, we are seeing significant changes to the oceans that are having significant negative effects on our ecosystem and our livelihoods. These changes often interact in dangerous ways and they will affect our planet across all sectors and all regions.
As human population has grown, so has the demand for protein and nutrition from the sea. Many fisheries and marine ecosystems are in trouble as a result. In addition, with the growth of coastal cities and towns, water quality has become polluted with human waste, fertilisers, pesticides, plastic bags and sediment.
At the same time, ecosystems such as coral reefs, oyster beds and kelp forests that provide real services to humans like coastal protection have been declining rapidly. And to top it all off, climate change and its frightening flow-on effect -- ocean acidification -- are driving even greater changes to ecosystems on which we rely heavily.
We have really arrived at a point in history in which these trends may severely curtail the ability of the ocean to support, feed and employ us. Currently, 16 percent of global animal protein consumed comes from seafood and this demand will increase rapidly with a population growing by the millions.
The oceans could be the answer to providing this extra food but not in their current state.
Look at the challenges: fisheries, city planning, pollution, agriculture, habitat destruction. There is no one group that is to blame and there is no one group that could solve this problem. That is where this diverse panel got busy.
They agreed that we need to act now and we need to push the 'Restart Button' on the solutions.
Solutions need to contribute to jobs and economies and they cannot be short-term solutions. They must protect the ocean's vitally important ecosystems and ensure the future for coastal people everywhere. They need to consider a country's local governance and capacity so that our efforts are not a flash in the pan.
The Blue Ribbon Panel sought to understand the mechanics of how to get the job done. We need to ramp up and revamp public-private partnerships to involve the full diversity of stakeholders and ensure that the benefits are balanced between ocean health and human health. Our current strategy of implementing disconnected projects (no matter how good or effective) will stand in the way of getting to the global scale required.
It is no longer credible for us as a global society to resist reducing our greenhouse emissions rapidly given the enormous stress and influence that ocean warming and acidification are having on marine ecosystems. It is no longer an option to look at the ocean under a microscope - we must look at it as a system in which we all play a role.
Equally, we need to recognize the importance of global platforms like the Global Partnership for Oceans, which currently includes over 150 governments, organisations and industry partners. The partnership has actors from small island states, multi-billion dollar companies, grassroots organizations and leading research institutions. It is the kind of partnership that can bring together the necessary actors to put in place effective solutions at the scale we need.
We stand at a point in history where it is neither too late nor impossible to turn the tide to restore ocean health. We all need to be around the table.
To modify the rallying cry of the Three Musketeers, we need to think "oceans for all, and all for oceans!"
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