Broad Global Partnership Formed to Rescue Troubled Oceans

SINGAPORE, February 24, 2012 (ENS) – The World Bank today announced the Global Partnership for Oceans, gathering governments, scientists, advocacy organizations, the private sector and international public institutions to confront the increasingly urgent issues of over-fishing, marine degradation, and habitat loss.

“Oceans are the lifeblood of our world,” said World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick, announcing the new partnership in a keynote speech at “The Economist” magazine’s World Oceans Summit in Singapore.

Healthy corals attract fish and dive tourists to Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea lapping Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. (Photo by Ian Robertson)

“They flow over more than 70 percent of our planet, and hold about 97 percent of its water. They absorb heat and carbon dioxide, generate oxygen, and shape the world’s weather patterns. They provide about 15 percent of the animal protein for the world’s population, the air that we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat,” Zoellick said. “Whether we live inland or on coastlines, each one of us relies on healthy oceans.”

“About 85 percent of the world’s fish stocks are either seriously depleted or well on their way. We have over 400 dead zones where life has stopped – an area about the size of New Zealand.”

“So for us as a development institution, it’s also a core issue because about a billion people in the world depend on fish as their primary source of protein. It’s a key source of jobs, whether for tourism or fisheries. There’s hundreds of millions of jobs depending on this.”

World Bank President Robert Zoellick in Singapore (Photo courtesy World Bank)

“So what we’re trying to do is bring the different parties together and send a signal – SOS – Save Our Seas,” said Zoellick. “The oceans are everybody’s business but no one can do it alone.”

“The world’s oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization,” he said. “We need coordinated global action to restore our oceans to health. Together we’ll build on the excellent work already being done to address the threats to oceans, identify workable solutions, and scale them up.”

All entities involved in the partnership are already engaged in ocean protection activities. They agree that the key now is to mobilize around a set of shared goals to help coordinate activities and mobilize new financial support.

The global conservation organization WWF is working with the World Bank and others to protect and restore habitats and species and manage risks to ocean health from land-based pollution and offshore extractive industries.

For instance, WWF-New Zealand today urged the government to ban set net fishing throughout Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins’ habitat, to prevent more dolphins dying needlessly in nets. The call came as two Hector’s dolphins were killed by the illegal use of set nets within a sanctuary for the endangered species.

Hector’s dolphins die in fishing nets. (Photo courtesy NZ Department of Conservation)

Fishing with nets is the main reason the numbers of Hector’s dolphins have declined from around 30,000 in the 1970s to just over 7,000 today, said the WWF.

In another evidence of ocean degradation, a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature released this week shows that 12 percent of marine species surveyed in the Gulf of California, the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica and the five offshore islands and archipelagos in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean are threatened with extinction.

A member of the Global Partnership for Oceans, the IUCN has identified geographic zones where conservation efforts are needed most – around the mouth of the Gulf of California and the coastlines of Panama and Costa Rica.

“Understanding species vulnerability to major threats is paramount for determining how species and marine environments are likely to respond to one or more simultaneous threats,” says Beth Polidoro, research associate, IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit, and lead author of the study. “Identification of threatened species and patterns of threat in the tropical eastern Pacific region can help guide local and regional marine conservation priorities for biodiversity conservation, as well as serve to inform policy.”

Giant sea bass, Gulf of California (Photo by D. Ross Robertson, courtesy IUCN)

Once common in the waters of southern California and the Gulf of California, Mexico, the giant sea bass, Stereolepis giga, now is listed as Critically Endangered, the IUCN said. When spawning, these fish form large groups that attract fishing vessels, reducing the chances of rebuilding sustainable populations.

Across the world’s oceans, the partners intend to address improved governance systems for fishing, more marine protected areas, intensified efforts to attack the sources of ocean pollution and degradation as well as improved coastal management to develop resilience to weather and climate-related threats.

Heading into the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June, ocean health is a key issue. The Global Partnership for Oceans will act in support of countries meeting commitments for improved ocean management.

“Brazil is committed to achieving specific results in conservation and sustainable development of oceans and hopes that Rio+20 will allow all countries to renew commitments made in 1992 with specific new commitments,” Francisco Gaetani, Brazil’s deputy environment minister said in Singapore.

“While the ocean itself is undivided, its management is a complex web of inter-related, intertwined, converging and competing demands and interests,” said the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, announcing its participation in the partnership. “The scale of the challenges facing the ocean today is such that singular efforts by various organizations specializing in one aspect or area are not enough.”

School of jacks in Philippine waters (Photo by Darren Abcede)

Numerous ocean-focused NGOs have expressed support for the new alliance.

“As the world’s population grows to nine billion people by 2050, the demand for food and other resources will double,” said Conservation International chief executive Peter Seligmann. “It is in the enlightened self interest of all nations and all communities to wisely steward our oceans. Humanity needs the oceans to thrive. Collaboration is essential.”

President of The Nature Conservancy, Mark Tercek said, “There is an urgent need to scale up the pace of ocean conservation around the world by bringing together a wide range of partners who are vested in the oceans; the World Bank’s leadership and commitment is a huge step forward towards achieving this.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for countries to realize tangible benefits – jobs, livelihoods, and economic development – by managing their oceans in a way that builds their natural capital,” said Tercek.

Other supporters of the new alliance spoke of the need for improved governance to improve oceans management, and unleash greater private investment in sustainable ocean enterprises.

“Almost all the challenges facing ocean sustainability stem from governance and market failures,” said Andrew Hudson, head of the UN Development Programme’s Water and Ocean Governance Programme.

“Our experience has been that supporting ocean governance reform at all levels creates an enabling environment that can in turn catalyze sizeable quantities of public and private sector finance to sustain ocean ecosystem services,” said Hudson. “The Global Partnership for Oceans provides a key means of implementation to scale up proven approaches.”

Lobster from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine (Photo by Jackie Childers)

Private companies like Darden Restaurants, one of the world’s largest seafood purchasers, are supportive of work that mitigates ocean health risk and will support the sustainable health of fisheries for generations to come.

“The health of the world’s oceans is critically important. Like so many, we depend on the natural resources the oceans provide and investing in their health helps ensure the long-term viability of those resources,” said Roger Bing, vice president of seafood purchasing for Darden Restaurants, a multi-brand restaurant enterprise with more than 1,900 restaurants in North America, including the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains.

Support for the Global Partnership for Oceans includes developed and developing countries and country groupings, including island nations; nongovernmental organizations and advocacy bodies like Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, Rare and World Wildlife Fund; science bodies like the United States’ National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration; private investors such as Paine & Partners and industry groups like the National Fisheries Institute, and the World Ocean Council, whose members rely on sustainable seafood supplies or are dependent on ocean resources.

International organizations involved include the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Global Environment Facility, the Global Ocean Forum, GRID Arendal (Norway), the UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Bank Group.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.