21.06.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Know our Ocean, Protect our Marine Treasures, Empower Ocean Citizens

Building a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is at the centre of discussions at the Rio+20 conference. However, the development of this ‘green economy’ will rely in part on the sustainable management and use of the ocean and its resources.

On 20 June 2012, a Rio+20 side event, moderated by Wendy Watson-Wright (Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission UNESCO-IOC), highlighted how the undivided ocean needs inter-related actions in science, protection and education to approach sustainable use of its resources.

Irina Bokova (Director-General, UNESCO) lamented that only 1% of the world's ocean areas are protected, and urged enhancing environmental education so citizens do not take ocean sustainability for granted. On enhancing the knowledge base, she stressed the importance of UNESCO-IOC's Global Ocean Observing System. She noted her organization's leading role in protecting ocean ecosystems through the establishment of marine heritage sites, which represent one-third of the world's marine protected areas. She also recognised the role of UNESCO in building capacity of its member states in ocean management and welcomed the RIO+20 voluntary commitment submitted by UNESCO-IOC in support of capacity development in marine science and observation.

Patricia Miloslavich (Census of Marine Life) stressed that only 10% of total marine biodiversity is known, and noted that 90% of the ocean’s biomass is composed of microbes. She highlighted the 90% decline in fish populations from baseline measurements and said that scientific challenges include acquiring an integrated global view, filling knowledge gaps, and knowledge on how humans can use and protect the oceans.

Michel Jarraud (Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization) presented early warning systems for the protection of coastal communities. Citing the example of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, he underlined that even the most developed countries are vulnerable to natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. Noting that oceans contain memory of the climate system, he explained how the El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation system can have impacts on the other side of the planet such as in Ethiopia's recent drought.

Clayton Lino (Mata Atlântica Coastal and Marine Biosphere Reserve) presented the UNESCO contribution to and the institutional structure of the Mata Atlântica Biosphere Reserve system, where the remnants of Atlantic Forest are associated with relevant secondary forests, forming a unique ecosystem stretching along a distance of more than 3,000 km along the coast. He said that the main threats in Atlantic rainforest coastal areas include chemical pollution, urbanization, fishing and the newly-found offshore oil and gas wells.

Using the Aldabra atoll as an example, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley (CEO, Seychelle Islands Foundation) noted that no other international protected areas system holds its sites accountable for its conservation efforts as does the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Sites. She urged for these sites, which represent 0.3% of the world's oceans, to expand over into the 99% of the oceans that are not protected.

Gillian Cambers (Co-director, Sandwatch Foundation) described a worldwide Sandwatch programme that measures, assesses, shares information and takes action on beaches. She said the programme depends on support from volunteers, UNESCO and the Danish government. She urged to keep citizens at the forefront of conservation.

Romain Troublé (Tara Expeditions) gave an example of a schooner expedition that conducts scientific investigations and promotes marine conservation in coastal communities around the world. He said that oceans must be protected for humanity's sake rather than the whales’.

Jean-Michel Cousteau (President, Ocean Futures Society) said Rio+20 negotiators have the opportunity to protect 20% of the world's open oceans. Cousteau noted that decision-makers often do not have access to the information needed to take proactive decision on the oceans. Noting the examples of President W. Bush and President Zedillo deciding to take action on marine conservation in Hawaii and Baja California, respectively, Cousteau said the secret of convincing politicians to act on the ocean is through their heart, which leads to breaking down their defence systems.

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