Nature reports on a new international initiative to rescue our oceans from disaster. The Global Partnership for Oceans is a co-operative effort being led by the World Bank. The partnership was announced by bank president Robert Zoellick at a summit meeting in Singapore, and is intended to coordinate marine conservation efforts between countries, private companies and international organizations.
That the World Bank is behind this new partnership actually makes a lot of sense. The oceans are truly international, and a major economic concern for a number of powerful countries. While a prevailing belief up to at least the middle of the twentieth century held that the ocean was too vast to be harmed by human activities, everything from decreased fishing stocks, to high levels of plastic waste, ocean acidification, and multiple species loss have shown this is not the case.
“The world’s oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization. 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,” Zoellick said in his keynote speech. Hopefully, making reference to both economic growth and ecological health should draw government, environmental advocates and private interests equally to the cause.
According to the press release, the world’s oceans provide some 15 percent of the world’s human-consumed protein. Helping fishing stocks to recover is therefore critical to many countries from an economic and, indeed, a human rights standpoint.
Though not mentioned, it’s also worth noting how significant ocean pollution can be for human health. Marine food chains provide a good example of the phenomenon called biomagnification, wherein toxins in the water become more concentrated as they are carried up by predators. Zooplankton are consumed by small fish, which are in turn consumed by larger fish and eventually us.
Toxins can include mercury and other heavy metals, synthetic chemicals and even tiny pieces of plastic. With the oceans being such a major protein source for the world, the importance of keeping that protein source safe for human consumption can hardly be overestimated.
Everything from industrial run-off to consumer waste at the individual level finds its way into the ocean, and since it’s basically a shared pond, it’s necessary that every country adhere to binding protocols.
The above video provides a nice summary of issues and goals for the partnership. One figure notes that about twelve percent of the world’s land area is protected, while less than two percent of the ocean is. One goal noted in the press release is to increase the protected area of the ocean to at least five percent, though no specific deadline has been set for this yet.
Photo credit: Radislaw Botez via Wikimedia Commons