NEW YORK, New York, June 8, 2021 (ENS) – Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth and produce at least half of the planet’s oxygen, the United Nations reminds us every year on June 8, observed as World Oceans Day. Oceans are inhabited by most of Earth’s biodiverse species. They are the main source of protein for more than a billion people, and a source of medicines for the world.
“The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods” is the theme for World Oceans Day 2021 https://unworldoceansday.org/- the UN projects that 40 million people will be employed in ocean-based industries by 2030.
The theme of Life and Livelihoods also serves as a declaration of intention launching a decade of challenges to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources,” by 2030.
Challenges indeed, for now the world’s oceans need help and support.
The nonprofit Oceanic Global, which masterminded the UN’s livestream event for World Oceans Day 2021, points out some dismal ocean facts: 93 percent of fisheries are fully fished or overfished, every 60 seconds a truckload of plastic enters the ocean, 90 percent of coral reefs are projected to die by 2050 and only 5.3 percent of the ocean is currently protected.
As the Earth’s temperature rises, climate change and ocean acidification are affecting species, ecosystems and people around the globe, jeopardizing food security, shoreline protection, individual livelihoods, and sustainable economic development.
Activities planned around World Oceans Day have extended into a month, with events scheduled during all of June. They are intended to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans.
This year’s theme is especially relevant in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which will run from 2021 to 2030. The Decade will strengthen international cooperation to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society.
Marine Protected Areas as a Climate Solution
June opened with five nations: Chile, Costa Rica, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, announcing a new global partnership to advance the role of Marine Protected Areas, MPAs, as a nature-based solution in the fight against climate change.
The announcement on June 2 came ahead of World Oceans Day and ahead of the United Nations climate change (COP 26) and biodiversity (COP 15) conferences later this year.
“The climate crisis is having profound impacts on marine ecosystems,” said John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate.
“At the same time, the ocean is a source of sustainable climate solutions. These include marine protected areas, which can help build climate resilience and store carbon, while conserving biodiversity,” Kerry said. “This is a decisive decade to dramatically scale up ocean and climate action — which are two sides of the same coin.”
“All nations rely on healthy marine ecosystems to support life on this planet,” said marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“Marine protected areas — but especially highly protected ones — are an effective nature-based solution for adapting to and mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity. Nations must act now to protect key ocean habitats and the services the ocean provides to nature and people,” Lubchenko urged.
The International Partnership on Marine Protected Areas, Biodiversity and Climate Change, with scientific support from members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland, will work with global leaders to ensure they have the information and tools needed to understand the contribution of MPAs, and the biodiversity they protect, as a solution in helping mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change on the global ocean.
The partnership has launched a website with tools and case studies about MPAs and will host webinars in each partner country on the role MPAs play in addressing climate change and conserving biodiversity.
“Global collaboration is key to realizing the climate benefits provided by Marine Protected Areas,” said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator. “Members of the partnership are committed to sharing knowledge and expertise, and working cooperatively to address scientific knowledge gaps. Together, we will develop a deeper understanding of how Marine Protected Areas may combat climate change while supporting sustainable economic development.”
While enhanced greenhouse gas reduction targets are vital to protect the ocean and avoid further irreversible impacts of climate change, MPAs are increasingly recognized as a key tool for maintaining and restoring ecosystem resilience, and providing positive outcomes for biodiversity.
MPAs can protect habitats that capture and/or provide long-term “blue carbon” storage of atmospheric carbon, including salt marshes, seagrasses, mangroves, and the seafloor.
They also conserve biodiversity, and provide many ocean and coastal ecosystem services including storm protection and erosion control, food production, employment opportunities, and recreation and tourism.
Well-integrated Marine Protected Area networks increase species survival by allowing them to move around to reduce exposure to pressures such as rising sea temperatures.
Hope For Troubled Sharks and Rays
In the West African country of Gabon, a new partnership for sharks and rays was announced on World Ocean Day that is intended to protect species as diverse as whale sharks, giant manta rays, scalloped hammerheads, and guitarfish.
The first new law in Gabon fully regulates shark and ray catches. Special authorization will now be needed to target sharks and rays. The law mandates that sharks are landed whole and bans the practice of shark finning and all export of shark and ray products from Gabon. A second law adds many sharks and rays to Gabon’s list of fully protected marine species.
Sharks are top predators, that are essential to healthy marine environments, but sharks grow slowly and are vulnerable to overfishing when not properly managed. Some of Gabon’s species have already been lost, including both species of sawfish, a large shark-like ray last recorded in Gabon’s waters in the 1990s.
The partnership between the government of Gabon and the U.S.-based international nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society launches a new global initiative to save the world’s sharks and rays.
This World Oceans Day, the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS, is launching the 10 x 10 initiative, a new shark conservation plan that seeks to deliver comprehensive, science-based, well-implemented shark management reforms in 10 key geographic areas across the globe over the next 10 years, to 2030, writes Luke Warwick, director of Shark and Ray Conservation for WCS.
WCS has identified priority regions and countries within them over the last 18 months, and already has shark and ray conservation projects in place in these locations. Warwick says the organization is now collecting scientific data and building relationships with governments and local communities that will ensure the 10 x 10 initiative is successful.
Stopping Marine Litter at the Source
In South Africa, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy says the government is focused on solving the problem of marine litter.
“There is sufficient evidence that a large percentage of pollution in the ocean originates from sources on land,” said Creecy. “In response to this growing concern, the department has developed a “Source-to-Sea” initiative focusing on managing litter sources, mainly from upstream catchments where the litter gets transported to the ocean and coastal areas by rivers and tributaries that discharge into the ocean.”
“The Source-to-Sea programme involves multiple government departments, at national, provincial and local level, as well as the private sector and other stakeholders, working in priority catchment areas, and providing job opportunities through the Working for the Coast program,” said Creecy on World Oceans Day.
Marine litter primarily comes from towns and cities located along rivers and waterways, which become pathways for litter into the marine environment.
Creecy said that her department is expanding the Source-to-Sea Programme into 16 coastal districts with the target of creating approximately 1,600 job opportunities that will address marine litter.
Globally, plastic production has reached new highs, she said, with over 320 million tons now being produced annually. “It has been estimated that between four to 12 million tons of plastic are added to the oceans each year.”
South Africa recognizes the oceans’ contribution to tourism. “Our oceans are globally recognised as unique and a hotspot of marine biodiversity,” Creecy said. “The Atlantic, Southern and Indian Ocean’s fishing grounds are among the healthiest worldwide, and coastal tourism is, and has the potential to be a significant income earner for many African coastal nations.”
Disappearing Quickly, Indian Ocean Tuna Could Get Help
Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), one of the most profitable fisheries in the world, is just a few years away from collapse. A meeting that began June 7 will decide the species’ fate.
As the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission begins its 2021 annual meeting, the item at the top of its agenda: how to save the overfished Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) stock from collapse, Mongabay reports.
The crisis has pitted a group of distant-water fishing nations led by the Eureopan Union, which hauls in the largest share of yellowfin, against Indian Ocean states like the Maldives, Kenya and South Africa.
Two proposals are under discussion, one from the Maldives, backed by coastal states, many of whom are developing countries, and the other from the EU, which has the support of other distant-water fishing nations like South Korea and Japan.
Fisheries experts say the Maldives’ plan would result in deeper reductions to catches, a starting point to end overfishing and rebuild the stock, and is more equitable than the EU’s proposal.
Young People Work Now to Assure Sustainable Ocean Future
Powered by the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council, the NGO World Ocean Day supports collaborative conservation, working with its global network of youth and organizational leaders in more than 140 countries to provide free, customizable promotional and actionable resources.
For 2021, World Ocean Day, not directly connected to the United Nations, is raising awareness and support for the global movement to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s lands, waters, and ocean by 2030, and idea known as 30 x 30. Safeguarding at least 30 percent through a network of highly protected areas can help ensure a healthy ocean and climate. Visit: https://worldoceanday.org/conservation-action-focus/ to learn more.
“It’s so inspiring to see so many youth change-makers from around our blue planet that share the same passions and ideas that I do, and more importantly, a burning and unquenchable desire for improvement,” said Natalie Ashkar, a World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council representative from Lebanon.
The Youth Advisory Council, with 25 members ages 16 to 23 from 20 diverse countries, provides new and unique perspectives, ideas and recommendations for rallying the world for ocean and climate conservation.
This year Council members led a 24-hour Youth-A-Thon for a blue planet on June 5/6, to inform, empower, and activate young people worldwide.
“Young people have an important part to play in ensuring a sustainable future for our planet’s ocean,” said Belinda Ng, a World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council representative from Hong Kong. “With the hard work of the Council members alongside passionate young people from all over the world, I am hopeful and optimistic about the future.”
Thousands of ocean events are happening worldwide both in person and virtually! Visit http://www.worldoceanday.org/events to find activities, celebrations, and other events!
“It’s extremely encouraging to see how many in person and online events are taking place this year to celebrate our one shared ocean,” said Emma Shahabi, World Ocean Day Coordinator, “More people and organizations than ever before are coming together globally to support protecting at least 30 percent of the Earth’s land and ocean by the year 2030. Together we can make a difference!”
U.S. and South Korean Students Win International Ocean Art Contest
The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation announced the winners of their annual student ocean conservation through art competition, the Science Without Borders® Challenge.
The Foundation received entries to the Science Without Borders Challenge from more countries than ever before. A total of 680 students from 63 countries sent in artwork illustrating this year’s theme, “The Magic of Mangroves.”
Mangrove forests are important marine ecosystems that protect the coast from storms, filter the water removing sediment and pollutants, sequester carbon, and provide critical habitat for many species above and below the waterline.
Sharon Choi, 16, won first place in the category for 15-19 year old students in the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge for her artwork, The Guardians of the Sea. A student at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California, Choi illustrated how mangrove forests provide a refuge for marine species in their early stages of life.
“I really liked the idea of mangroves being a safe-haven for young fish, like a kindergarten, so that is what I wanted to portray in my piece,” she said.
“I don’t think that most people know about mangroves, so I hope that my art raises awareness about this ecosystem, so that it is equally talked about like coral reefs,” Choi said.
First place in the category for students 11-14 years old went to Dana Chung, 13, a Korean boarding school student at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Her piece, Shelter, shows how mangroves create habitat for other organisms and shelters them from storms.
Through this competition, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation hopes to educate students worldwide about the need to protect oceans and inspire the next generation of ocean advocates.
Amy Heemsoth, director of education at the Foundation, said that “students and teachers who participate in this competition continue to impress me with their evident passion for marine conservation and drive to make a difference. This gives me hope for our ocean’s future.”
Hope Spots – Protection for the “Blue Heart of the Planet”
Led by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, who calls the oceans the “blue heart of the planet,” the U.S.-based nonprofit Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots.
Hope Spots are places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. Dr. Earle says Mission Blue’s Hope Spots are championed by local conservationists whom the group supports with communications, expeditions and scientific advice.
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films, expeditions, the web, new submarines, campaigns – to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet,” Dr. Earle said.
On June 8, Panama designated a new Hope Spot. President of Panama Laurentino Cortizo and Minister of Environment Milciades Concepción signed the decree that protects the Coiba Ridge, a move that will triple the Cordillera de Coiba marine protected area.
With this act, Panama is set to be ahead of the 30 percent by 2030 goals and become a true “Blue Leader – a country that officially highly and fully protects 30 percent or more of its oceans. Panama will finalize the management plan to address the regulation of the new expanded MPA by the fall.
Coping With Harmful Algal Blooms
An unprecedented analysis of almost 10,000 harmful algal bloom events worldwide over the past 33 years was launched June 9 by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, IOC.
The first-ever global statistical analysis examined some 9,500 harmful algal bloom events over 33 years and found that the harm they caused rose in step with growth of the aquaculture industry and marine exploitation and calls for more research on linkages.
Conducted over seven years by 109 scientists in 35 countries, the study found that reported harmful algal bloom events have increased in some regions and decreased or held steady in others.
A widely-stated view that harmful algal blooms are on the rise throughout the world, perhaps due to climate change, was not confirmed.
However, the study, “Perceived global increase in algal blooms is attributable to intensified monitoring and emerging bloom impacts,” published in the journal “Nature Communications Earth & Environment,” creates the world’s first baseline against which to track future shifts in the location, frequency and impacts of harmful algal blooms, which differ depending on which of the 250 harmful marine algae species is involved and where, requiring assessment on a species-by-species and site-by-site basis.
A public webinar on the global harmful algal bloom Status Report will take place Tuesday June 15, 2021 at 1 pm, Paris time.
To register: https://bit.ly/3z3kjCB
More Than World Ocean Day – It’s World Ocean Decade
This year is the beginning of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021 to 2030. The Decade will provide a rare and unique opportunity to strengthen the international cooperation needed to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society.
The Blue Climate Initiative, based in the United States and French Polynesia, has been selected as one of the first flagship programs of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. With this endorsement, BCI will be taking on new responsibilities to advance Ocean Decade programs.
The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development supports efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.
Our world is in crisis, acknowledges the Blue Climate Initiative. Climate change is accelerating, with huge implications for nature and human societies. Oceans offer many promising opportunities to address the climate crisis.
To help inspire, stimulate and accelerate ocean-related solutions, BCI will soon launch a US$1 Million Ocean Innovation Prize to reward a brilliant, diverse set of innovators and entrepreneurs for addressing the climate crisis through ocean-related technologies and approaches.
Winners will share a minimum of US$1 million, be invited to participate in the high-level 2022 Blue Climate Summit in French Polynesia where their projects will be profiled and introduced to leading investors, ocean experts and champions and to high-level Ocean Decade events, and be supported with visibility, matchmaking and mentorship.
The prize will contribute to meeting the solutions-focused ambition of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development which is being coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
Featured image: Sharon Choi, 16, won first place in the category for 15-19 year old students in the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge for her artwork, The Guardians of the Sea. A portion of her artwork is shown. To see the whole art piece, click here. (Photo courtesy Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)