The oceans saved us, now we can give back
Humanity must heal oceans sickened by climate change, pollution and overfishing to save marine life and save us, experts have warned ahead of the opening of a major United Nations conference in Lisbon on Monday.
By absorbing, decade after decade, a quarter of the CO2 pollution and more than 90 percent of the excess heat from global warming, the oceans have kept the Earth’s land surface livable.
Our species has returned the favor by dumping mountains of plastic waste into the sea, draining the deep blue of big fish, and poisoning coastlines with toxic chemicals and agricultural runoff that create oxygen-deprived dead zones.
“At least a third of wild fish stocks are overexploited and less than 10% of the ocean is protected,” Kathryn Matthews, scientific manager of the American NGO Oceana, told AFP.
“Destructive and illegal fishing vessels operate with impunity in many coastal waters and on the high seas.”
Nearly $35 billion in subsidies that worsen overfishing will be in the spotlight in Lisbon, despite the first steps towards a partial ban put in place by the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week.
At the same time, seawater made acidic by CO2 as well as extensive marine heat waves that last for months or longer kill the coral reefs that support a quarter of marine life and provide livelihoods for a quarter of a billion people.
“We are only beginning to understand how devastating climate change is going to wreak on the health of the oceans,” said Charlotte de Fontaubert, global head of blue economy at the World Bank.
Co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, the five-day UN Ocean Conference – delayed from April 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic – brings together thousands of government officials, businesses, scientists and NGOs looking for solutions.
While they don’t all agree on what needs to be done, they largely agree on what is at stake.
“If we don’t do the right thing, we could end up with a dead ocean,” Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries expert and professor at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.
“Think about it – Oh man, that’s scary.”
Pollution which could, according to current trends, see as much plastic in the seas as fish by the middle of the century is also on the agenda, with proposals ranging from recycling to an outright ban on plastic bags.
From East Asian factory ships prowling the high seas to artisanal fishing boats navigating tropical coasts, how to make wild fisheries sustainable will be high on the Lisbon agenda.
The new buzzword is ‘blue food’, food from the sea that is both sustainable and fair trade.
“Wild ocean fish can provide a climate-friendly source of micronutrient protein that can feed a billion people with a healthy seafood meal every day, forever,” Matthews said.
The booming aquaculture industry is also under the microscope, where problems range from the destruction of valuable mangrove forests to the widespread use of antibiotics.
The conference could report for the first time trend lines for wild fishing – which peaked in the 1990s – and seafood farming, each producing around 100 million tonnes a year.
The Lisbon meeting will see ministers and even a few heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, but is not a formal negotiating session.
That won’t stop participants from pushing for a strong ocean agenda, however, at two critical summits later this year: the UN COP27 climate talks in November, hosted by Egypt, followed of the long-delayed COP15 biodiversity negotiations, recently moved from China. to Montreal.
The oceans are already at the heart of a proposed biodiversity treaty tasked with stopping what many scientists fear may be the first ‘mass extinction’ since a meteor wiped out land-based dinosaurs more than 100 years ago. 65 million years old.
A coalition of nearly 100 nations backs a fundamental provision that would designate 30% of the world’s land and oceans as protected areas.
For climate change, not so much.
Despite the disastrous impact of global warming and the key role the oceans play in absorbing atmospheric CO2the seven seas barely noted a mention in the ongoing UN climate talks until recently.
But science has clearly shown that they need each other: the oceans will continue to suffer unless greenhouse gas concentrations stabilize, and the fight against global warming will be doomed if the oceans are losing their ability to absorb CO2 and absorb heat.
A 3D approach to protect biodiversity in the high seas
© 2022 AFP
Quote: Oceans Saved Us, Now We Can Give Back (2022, June 25) Retrieved June 25, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-oceans-favor.html
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