» New global data on High Seas and Large Marine Ecosystems to support policy makers
14.07.2016 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

New global data on High Seas and Large Marine Ecosystems to support policy makers

© TWAP / UNEP 2016: Contemporary Threat Index

Sixty percent of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by local activities; 50% of all fish stock in large marine ecosystems (LMEs) are overexploited; 64 of the world’s 66 LMEs have experienced ocean warming in the last decades, according to new alarming figures from global assessments on the state of the world’s high seas and large marine ecosystems presented by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the UN Environmental Programme and the Global Environment Facility.

The assessments identified the mounting cumulative impacts of climate change and human activities on ocean ecosystems and their impact on the ocean across or beyond national borders. This is resulting in deteriorating health and declining resource productivity, notably due to unsustainable fishing and pollution. The lack of national engagement and globally-integrated governance of transboundary waters threatens to further amplify these negative impacts.

The open ocean and LME data and findings were released today at the Headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington D.C., in the framework of the Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme (TWAP), a project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). TWAP undertook global assessments of the world’s transboundary water systems – including the open ocean and the large marine ecosystems – in order to support national decision makers and international organizations set priorities for policy interventions and develop a framework for future periodic assessments.

The IOC and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released a suite of products from the TWAP data, including a full global assessment report and a more targeted version in summary form for policy makers.

The findings from the open ocean and LME assessments present projections for disastrous escalation by 2030 and 2050 of the cumulative impacts of local and global hazards from tourism to climate change on marine ecosystems. The assessments nevertheless identify the important potential benefits of globally and regionally integrated governance to address these issues and should help strengthen countries’ capacities to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Maintaining the health and resource productivity of these transboundary water systems should help countries achieve global objectives to reduce poverty and hunger, and promote sustainable economic growth.

The open ocean and the LMEs are of paramount importance to the global economy for the services they provide to human well-being and socio-economic development. LMEs alone contribute an estimated US$28 trillion annually to the global economy through ecosystem services and benefits provided by nature: fish for food and trade, tourism and recreation, coastal protection from flooding and erosion, and the less tangible benefits from cultural, spiritual, and aesthetic connections to nature.

Links to TWAP Launch Presentations:

Large Marine Ecosystems

Open Ocean

Some TWAP Findings in Numbers:

 Open Ocean:

  • 60% of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by local activities.
  • 90% of all coral reefs could be threatened in 2030 by the combined pressures of local activities and climate change.
  • 100 international agreements currently “govern” the open ocean, signaling severe fragmentation.

Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs):

  • 64 of 66 LMEs have experienced ocean warming since 1957 (“Super-fast” warming in the Northwest / Northeast Atlantic and in Western Pacific).
  • 28% reduction in fish catch potential projected for high-risk LMEs in East Siberian Sea.
  • 50% of all fish stock in LMEs are overexploited

The TWAP Full-sized Project has been  implemented  by  UNEP  as  Implementing  Agency,  UNEP's  Division  of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) as Executing Agency, and the following lead agencies for each of the water system categories: the International Hydrological  Programme  (IHP)  of  the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for transboundary aquifers including groundwater systems in small island developing states (SIDS);  the International Lake Environment Committee Foundation (ILEC) for lake  basins;  UNEP-DHI Partnership - Centre on Water and Environment (UNEP-DHI) for river basins; and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO for large  marine  ecosystems (LMEs) and the open ocean. The institutional partnerships forged in this assessment are envisioned to seed future transboundary assessments.


Contact: Julian Barbière, j.barbière(at)unesco.org 

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