Save our oceans
The ocean covers a much greater area on Earth than land and plays a
major role in maintaining the Earth’s ecological balance. The ocean
provides 50 percent of our oxygen and fixes 25 percent of global carbon
emissions. Our food chain begins in the ocean. It has been known for
quite some time that our oceans are in peril due to many reasons. Yet,
little action is being taken to reverse the damage caused to the ocean
itself and to marine life therein.
Now a global body comprising eminent former politicians and other
intellectuals has submitted a report that essentially likens the oceans
to a failed state. The Global Ocean Commission, in a comprehensive
report, titled a Rescue Package for the Global Ocean, calls for
immediate action to save the oceans from over-fishing, industrial
pollution and over exploitation.
“The oceans are a failed state,” David Miliband, a former British
foreign secretary and a co-chair of the commission, said. “A previously
virgin area has been turned into a plundered part of the planet.” The
independent, 17-member commission - launched in February 2013 by the Pew
Charitable Trusts, the University of Oxford, Adessium Foundation, and
Oceans 5 - spent 18 months researching and drafting the report.
The Report recommends that Governments should set a five-year
deadline to crack down on over-fishing and pollution or parts of the
oceans may have to be declared off-limits to industrial fishing. The
Global Ocean Commission has urged rescue measures including a phase-out
of damaging subsidies for fishing fleets (fishing subsidies total at
least US$ 30 billion a year) and tougher regulations on offshore oil and
gas to limit pollution of the seas.
It wants Governments to step up the fight against illegal fishing,
reduce pollution, and establish greater international cooperation on
marine issues. If subsidies are stopped, fishing in high seas
(international waters) will virtually disappear as it will no longer be
financially viable without financial support.
About 10 million tonnes of fish worth US$ 16 billion, from tuna to
molluscs, are caught every year in the high seas out of a global fish
catch of 80 million tonnes, the Commission said. In 1950, only one
percent of the fish in the high seas were fished each year and there
were no populations that were overfished. By 2006, the number of high
seas fish being collected jumped to 63 percent while a whopping 87
percent of species were being overfished.
Modern trawlers are able to scour the ocean floor down to depths of
2,200 metres. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, the United States,
Chile, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and France are the main high
seas fishing nations.
Alarmingly, many fish stocks in the high seas - an area outside
national coastal zones that covers almost half the globe - are under
pressure from illegal and unregulated catches. (Actually, 65 percent of
the ocean is categorized as international waters that do not belong to
any specific country or countries). Many governments, eager to boost
their fish production and economies, allows this to go on unchecked.
The Commission has called for a five-year rescue package to resolve
threats from over-fishing to pollution. In the long-term, Governments
should “consider turning the high seas ... into a regeneration zone
where industrial fishing is prevented,” it said. The economic cost of
closing the high seas to fishing would be US$ 2 per each person on the
planet but in the end, it would lead to a US$ 4 rise in fish yields in
coastal regions. However, some experts have called for a total,
immediate ban on fishing in the unregulated high seas and a switch to
sustainable fishing. The commissioners also call for mandatory tracking
of all vessels fishing in international waters and a ban on ship-to-ship
transfer of fish at sea, a practice common in pirate, or illegal,
Another concern is the rapid recovery of oil and gas from the oceans.
The Commission has urged tougher environmental and safety standards
for oil and gas since a third of all oil is now extracted from under the
seabed with some wells deeper than 3 km (2 miles) below the surface.
These are commendable recommendations that would help save our oceans
if properly implemented. It has been revealed that 87 percent of marine
fish stocks have been over exploited and some species are at risk of
extinction. Moreover, it would also give a fair chance for developing
countries which generally do not possess the technology necessary to
fish in high seas.
There are many instances where fishing vessels from developed
countries fish in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters that actually
belong to other countries in addition to fishing in international
waters. If properly implemented, these proposals will give a fair chance
to all players. However, these changes may require a re-working of the
1982 Law of the Sea. A lot of water has flown since then in the world’s
oceans since then and our understanding of the ocean is much greater
Another positive proposal is for the appointment of a special UN
representative for the ocean and formal adoption of ocean health as an
official Sustainable Development Goal post-2015. That would set in
motion funding opportunities through the World Bank, governments, and
various other public-private entities. This will bind all UN members,
even those who might opt out of ratifying a new Sea of the Law, to work
within certain parameters to ensure ocean health.
There is a cost to protecting our oceans, but the cost of not doing
anything at all is far greater.
We owe it future generations to protect and nurture the oceans, about
which we are yet to learn many new things. Millions of species are
waiting to be discovered in the deep oceans but if we over-exploit
current resources, there will be little left to discover and life on
earth will suffer. The ocean is the planet’s biggest asset and the
common heritage of all mankind. It must be protected for posterity at