Uncontrolled seas, the majority of the high seas, is common territory. Nobody owns it, and nobody protects it. Three billion people depend on protein from fish, but global ocean biodiversity is suffering due to pollution from land and ocean activities.
Closing the loop is an opportunity to stop overfeeding the sea nutrients that are slowly killing it, but it is also an opportunity to reuse and recycle valuable resources. It is the circular economy of the ocean.
Developing ways to use the oceans that supports biodiversity is an opportunity to create resilience and long-term value for society and business. It is the regenerative economy of the ocean
The oceans of the world are the last undiscovered frontier, which is slowly opening up to become smart oceans, which will enable us to make the right choices for sustainable development in the ocean space.
Marine and coastal biodiversity – ecosystems, species, and genetic resources – provide enormous benefits for human well-being. Roughly 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the coast. Fisheries employ approximately 200 million people, provide about 16 percent of the protein consumed worldwide, and have an annual value estimated at 80 billion USD. Coastal ecosystems provide services, including tourism and protection from storms, valued at nearly 26 billion USD annually. Not only coastal ecosystems are important. Oceans create half of
the world’s oxygen and store 50 times more CO2 than our atmosphere. The deep ocean floor has one of the highest rates of biodiversity on Earth.
However, global marine ecosystems and their biodiversity are under threat from habitat destruction, overfishing and bycatch, hydrocarbon and mineral exploitation, marine litter and toxic chemicals, nutrient pollution, and increased CO2 emissions leading to warming waters and acidification – all a result of human mismanagement and lack of political will.
The marine Living Planet Index, an indicator of the state of global biological biodiversity, shows a decline of 39 percent between 1970 and 2010. Coral reefs, the world’s most diverse marine ecosystem, are projected to disappear by 2050, illustrating the profound changes that are likely to materialise as we continue to warm and acidify the ocean. Habitat destruction has the biggest effect on biodiversity loss. Unsustainable use of the ocean’s resources like destructive fishing techniques, activities in the oil and gas sector, and emerging industries like deep-sea mining pose large risks on habitats. For coastal habitats, residential development, tourism, aquafarming, industrial development, and dams all have huge impacts.
In 2011, around 29 percent of marine fish stocks were estimated to be fished at a biologically unsustainable level. Unless catches are reduced and fisheries better managed in the future, fish stocks will decline.
Because water is such an effective solvent, much of the toxic pollution generated by humans eventually ends up in the ocean; in fact, more than 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. In addition, estimates show that more than one hundred million tonnes of plastic might have ended up in the oceans since 1950.
Nutrient pollution is the process where too many nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, are added to bodies of water and can act like fertilizer. This phenomenon is known as eutrophication or dead-zones. In coastal and marine ecosystems, eutrophication changes the algal species composition. Currently over 500 dead-zones have been reported as eutrophic worldwide. Sources of nutrient pollution include surface runoff from farm fields, discharges from septic tanks and feedlots, and emissions from combustion.
The massive amount of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere isn’t just warming the climate and changing the ocean temperature – a quarter of it ends up in the oceans, where it works to lower the water’s pH level and increase its acidity. The oceans have become 30 percent more acidic over the past 200 years because of human activity, harming coral reefs, dissolving the shells of sea snails, an important part of the marine food chain, and threatening fisheries.
Uncontrolled seas – the majority of the high seas – is common territory, but without common governance. In ocean governance there is a fragmentation of jurisdictions and decision-making. It means silo governance, where each state only looks at its own waters. But, oceans are fluid – a problem in one place can end up in another and threaten biodiversity.