World Oceans Day is a time to celebrate our common treasure, which makes the Earth habitable for people by providing and regulating the climate, weather, oxygen, food and many other environmental, social and economic benefits. This year, with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) just weeks away, it is also an opportunity to champion their cause. 

  UNESCO will ensure that the oceans’ role is clearly acknowledged at Rio+20, in view of its manifold effects on social justice, preservation of the environment and economic efficiency.     

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, on the occasion of World Oceans Day 2012

The lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean is also a major source of food and medicines and a critical part of the biosphere. The ‘blue economy’ of the ocean is central to our daily lives: at least one in four persons relies on sea food as their primary source of protein. Marine and coastal resources and industries represent more than 5% of global GDP and 90% of the world’s trade is carried by shipping. With technological progress, economic activities in coastal zones and deeper waters continue to intensify and to diversify.

Yet our ocean and its resources are deteriorating and depleting as it faces increasing pressure from various types of pollution and over-exploitation. Business as usual scenarios for CO2 emissions could make the ocean up to 150% more acidic by 2100, placing the entire food chain and key ecosystems such as coral reefs under threat. Maintaining the quality of life that the ocean has provided to humankind while sustaining the integrity of ocean ecosystems, requires changes in how we view, manage, govern and use ocean resources and coastal areas.


Rising to the challenge

The importance of the ocean is not matched by our knowledge, the fact remains that it is still relatively unexplored. The formulation of sustainable, ecosystem-based policies and measures for oceans and coasts needs to be supported by science including research and observations. For over 50 years, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has been promoting international cooperation and coordinating research, services and capacity-building to find out more about the oceans and coastal areas and to generate knowledge to improve the sustainable management and protection of the marine environment. It has also been providing an evidence base for the decision making process of its Member States.

Rio+20 is an opportunity to define new guidelines on priorities in coastal and ocean sciences for global sustainability. With this in mind, 4 UN agencies have pooled their expertise to draft a set of proposals for the ocean and provide context for the Rio+20 discussions, through analysis of current challenges in ocean and coastal management around the world: the Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability.

There are emerging opportunities for the global community to enhance the contribution of the oceans to sustainable development, increase recognition of the concept of a Green Economy, renewable blue energy, genetic bio-resources, ecosystem services, and the ocean’s place in the Earth system, to name a few. Existing industries are playing a key role in the identification of emerging opportunities, such as the efforts of the shipping industry to reduce its climate footprint.

The protection of this global common calls for collective action. We can each make a difference, by understanding the issues and focusing on sustainable solutions that we can apply to our lives, by sharing our dreams and ideas. You too can participate and decide which is The Future We Want.

Facts and Figures

  • Our ocean covers over 70% of the globe. To date only a little over 1% of the ocean is protected.

  • An estimated 50-80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. Less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans.

  • Tiny marine plants called phytoplankton release half of all oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

  • The oceans account for 96% of all the water on the surface of the Earth, the remainder being freshwater, in the form of rivers, lakes and ice.

  • The ocean absorbs approximately 25% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere from human activities each year, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate.

  • Total carbon deposits in coastal systems such as such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows may be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests.