Looking beneath the surface

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Much is made of what we don’t know about the ocean. In many ways, it remains impenetrable and mysterious, even in today’s technological era. This is why, perhaps, we continue to be so deeply fascinated and inspired by its might.

Through studies produced by WWF and other organizations, as well as expert meetings like the upcoming Our Ocean Conference in Chile, we know more than enough now to understand that the ocean is being pushed to the limit and that it is approaching critical condition. The species that depend on a healthy ocean – and the people around the world who depend on the sea for their food and their income – can’t wait. We need to act urgently on what we know, while we still can.

Sun setting over the Indian ocean at Betty's Bay, South Africa. © Martin Harvey / WWFSun setting over the Indian ocean at Betty’s Bay, South Africa. © Martin Harvey / WWF

Perhaps one of the most important facts that the world is beginning to acknowledge is how connected the ocean is to each of our lives, no matter how close or how far we live from the sea. The ocean feeds us, protects us, employs us, and ensures the existence of life on Earth.

In turn, we are beginning to learn how each of us directly impacts the ocean – again, no matter how near or how far it is. For decades the ocean has covered up a lot of our economic, societal and political mistakes. But now those poor decisions – from overfishing to our reliance on fossil fuels – are adding up in ways that severely threaten the ocean’s ability to continue to support us all.

WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report presents the science in stark terms. It finds that populations of the planet’s marine life n less than 50 years. Coral reefs that directly benefit over 850 million people are facing extinction in our generation; mangroves that serve as nurseries of the sea are being cut down at a rate that surpasses deforestation on land. Populations of fish used for commercial or subsistence purposes have been cut in half. The family of fish that includes tuna has been reduced by close to 75 per cent over the last four decades.

All this information leads to one conclusion: we are squandering a vital resource. A conservative estimate of the value of goods and services the ocean provides to our global economy – the “gross marine product” – is $2.5 trillion a year, making the ocean the seventh largest economy in the world.

Companion research shows that by increasing the amount of protected ocean area we would add substantially to the ocean’s value. In pure economic terms, the ocean would benefit from even more investment and it’s time to “buy” not “sell” on this extraordinarily valuable asset.

Mohamed Ahmed sets a basket traps in Mafia Island Marine Park. He is allowed to fish in the park because he uses sustainable methods and a traditional boat. © Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UKMohamed Ahmed sets a basket traps in Mafia Island Marine Park. He is allowed to fish in the park because he uses sustainable methods and a traditional boat. © Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK

With so much troubling news about the ocean, it is easy to lose sight of another set of facts that is emerging. The ocean is a renewable resource and, fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to help it heal, if we act fast.

Warming waters and acidification can, to some extent, be dealt with through a new global climate deal. Unsustainable fishing can be reined in where the will and commitment exist. Protection for marine habitats can be greatly increased and wasteful fishing techniques avoided. Pollution of the ocean is our own reckless choice and can also be dealt with.

The UN’s recently adopted sustainable development goals reinforce the need for agreements, investments and good behaviour that can radically reverse our past poor choices. World leaders need to commit to funding and implementing the ocean goal in order to secure fisheries and livelihoods.

The ocean means different things to different people. To some it represents the daily meal and a reliable job, to others it offers recreation and inspiration – and all of us need the stable climate and oxygen it provides. As a child growing up on Italy’s Mediterranean coast, I was privileged to watch the sea from my bedroom window and feel its inspiration every single day of my youth.

Local children, Banda Sea, Indonesia Alor, Banda Sea, Indonesia. © Robert Delfs / WWF-CanonLocal children, Banda Sea, Indonesia © Robert Delfs / WWF

Now I am passionate about asking everyone to look beyond the sparkling blue surface and understand and confront the important task that lies ahead. Between crisis and opportunity, a healthy ocean means a healthy future for all of us. We must not wait any longer to take action that can make or break our future, and that of our one living planet.

Marco Lambertini is Director General of WWF International.

Marco Lambertini, WWF International Director General. © Richard Stonehouse / WWF © Richard Stonehouse / WWF

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