The oceans and seas of the world cover 2/3 of the surface area of our planet. They feed us, absorb carbon dioxide, emit half of the oxygen generated by plants and contain an abundance of natural resources, from hydrocarbons to minerals. However, they are being used and abused.
Over-fishing is depleting fish stocks and affecting the stability of the marine eco-system. Pollution, especially from plastic, is having a devastating effect on marine life and is economically detrimental to fisheries and tourism. With five trillion pieces of plastic currently floating in the oceans, in 2015, Globalwatch Institute estimated that the annual cost of ocean pollution from plastic equals approximately US$13 billion.* Plastic toxins are also finding their way into our food-chain, having been absorbed by fish and other sea-based foodstuff that we consume. Finally, growing CO2 emissions are raising the acidity of the oceans as increasing levels of carbon dioxide are absorbed by the oceans and converted into carbonic acid. This again affects marine life, bleaching coral reefs and dissolving the shells of crustaceans. The oceans also absorb much of the planet’s generated heat contributing to increasing ocean temperatures and rising sea-levels.
This is not sustainable. Steps need to be taken to arrest and reverse these trends.
Luckily, the international community is taking notice. In September 2016, John Kerry hosted the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., the third such conference. The conference raised US$5.24 billion in commitments to protect the oceans. The 27 May edition of the Economist ran a cover story about the health of our oceans. And this week the UN is hosting the first ever UN Ocean Conference in New York aimed at progressing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Life under Water”. It is expected that the conference will adopt a Call for Action to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, to be shared on this blog once available.
However, intergovernmental commitments alone will not solve these issues. Action can and should be taken at corporate and individual level. Here are a few examples of innovations and initiatives helping our oceans:
Research Expedition Vessel: Kjell Inge Roekke, the tenth-richest man in Norway, with a net worth of over $2 billion and a background in fishing, industrial trawling and oil, recently announced his plans to contribute his great fortune to causes that will benefit society. His first initiative is a marine research vessel that will remove five tons of plastic from the ocean daily, melting it to ensure that it can do no harm. The ship will be managed by the WWF.
Global Fishing Watch: This is a joint SkyTruth, Oceana and Google platform which monitors global fishing activity by pooling together historical data from a satellite-based vessel monitoring system. It uses an algorithm to track fishing activity and is open for use by anyone with an internet connection. The aim of this initiative is to tackle over-fishing and help generate smart and effective fishing policies.
SkySails: One of a host of so-called “green shipping initiatives” aimed at reducing fuel consumption by cargo ships through innovative design. SkySails provides cargo ships with high altitude sails enabling them to capitalise on the stronger wind energy available at high altitudes and thereby, reducing their fuel use.
The Ocean Cleanup: The company has developed a plastic waste collection system which aims at removing half of plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. Their system is a floating, rather than fixed, solution meaning it is more efficient at collecting waste and it is energy neutral. The system is currently being piloted but the creators are working at scaling up the system to deploy it worldwide by 2020.
If you know of any other great initiatives that deserve a mention, please send these in!
* quote from Clarke, Arthur C. 1917