World Ocean Summit – A Call to Action

Created on Tuesday, 20 March 2012

By Mariah Boyle, FishWise Project Director

Matt Owens, Tobias Aguirre, and I recently attended the World Oceans Summit in Singapore, hosted by the Economist. At the reception Sylvia Earle welcomed the group, shared with us the lessons she has learned from her ocean advocacy and research, and challenged us to tackle the difficult issues facing the oceans today — including climate change and ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction. The reception was set against the dramatic backdrop of Singapore’s shipping and oil industry along with turquoise waters and palm trees.

Twenty-seven countries were represented, including the Presidents of Iceland and Kiribati, a Member of Parliament from the UK, along with a talented cast of scientists like Enric Sala and Sylvia Earle, journalists like Charles Clover of End of the Line fame and the Economist editors.

Some stunning facts from the conference:

The bad news:

  • The oceans have already absorbed 1/4 of the CO2 that has been produced since the industrial revolution (a contributor to ocean acidification)
  • Less than 1% of the world’s oceans are no-take reserves, whereas 12% of land is preserved in parks
  • Globally, 70% of sewage goes into the oceans untreated
  • In seafood supply chains there can be 40-60% waste of the raw material — this must become a more efficient process
  • 33% of US seafood is from the Gulf of Mexico, a system recovering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster
  • Many fishery subsidies are for depleted fisheries — there was a call for subsidies to be eliminated or re-distributed

The good news:

  • 40% of the government of Kiribati’s income is from fishing licenses — a well managed system
  • Reusing plastic uses 80-90% less petroleum than making new plastic for durable goods
  • 1/6 of the protein for human consumption comes from seafood — if well managed it can be a sustainable source of food for some of the world
  • 1/2 of fishing effort is from small scale fisheries — if we can help developing nations harvest sustainably, we can help them grow in harmony with the environment

The Arctic Sea was discussed at length. Now that the ice is melting it will be open for exploration and extraction soon to many industries including fishing, shipping, and oil extraction. It sounded from the conversation that this will be happening very soon. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much discussion about if this should happen, considering that anthropogenic impacts have opened up this resource to further disturbance. But at least conversations centered around how to extract resources responsibly, and how to create international agreements to protect and monitor the Arctic.

It wasn’t all bad news though — there were industry groups present talking about how sustainability can be good for business. There were fishermen talking about how to improve quotas and management systems. Robert B. Zoellick, President of The World Bank Group announced a new Global Partnership for Oceans. He challenged the audience to, in 10 years: 1) rebuild half of the depleted fisheries, 2) increase annual net benefit of fisheries to $20-$30 billion, and 3) double the marine protected areas (less than 2% of the ocean, compared to 12% on land), see the full transcript of his talk here.

Despite all of the hard problems we had to tackle, the groups were optimistic. A favorite quote of mine was from Brett Jenks of RARE. He said there is “no better opportunity to advance humane welfare and preserve biodiversity” than the present. This sentiment resurfaced often throughout the conference — now is the time for change. The President of Kiribati proposed we treat the ocean “like a spaceship”, reducing waste and reusing materials. Dr. Sylvia Earle reminded the group of the important things the ocean provides us that can’t be measured or given a price tag — like air to breathe and the clouds that deliver our drinking water. She emphasized the importance of leaving some ocean there just to be ocean and provide these functions and cautioned the group about exploiting the entire system.

The World Ocean Summit was a fantastic event. I hope the momentum and enthusiasm from the brilliant group convened continues to bring positive change to ocean health. I know FishWise will be working as hard as we can to do our part.