May 25, 2012

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By Mera McGrew

On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the International Day for Biological Diversity to warn a global audience about the fragile state of the world’s ocean and draw attention to the importance of marine biodiversity for the long-term health of the planet.

The ocean covers over 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and supports the life of many amazing creatures, some of which are known, but many more that have yet to be discovered, described or catalogued. “Despite its importance, marine biodiversity — the theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity — has not fared well at human hands,” stated UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Ban put an emphasis on the over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks explaining that more than half of global fisheries are exhausted while another third are depleted. He warned that estimates suggest that between 30 and 35 percent of all critical marine environments, including seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs have already been destroyed. He spoke about the continued problem of plastic debris, explaining that it continues to kill marine life and contributes to creating large areas of water that are almost devoid of oxygen.

“Added to all of this, increased burning of fossil fuels is affecting the global climate, making the sea surface warmer, causing sea level to rise and increasing ocean acidity, with consequences we are only beginning to comprehend,” cautioned Ban.

While introducing all of the things that threaten marine biodiversity and ocean health, Secretary-General Ban was quick to offer hope — he spoke of the incredible ability that marine populations and ecosystems have to recover when human threats are reduced or removed. Unfortunately, little more than 1 percent of marine environments are being protected and given the opportunity to recover, but progress is being made.

Just this week, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance released a report titled, “Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection,” that introduces a vision for the creation of the world’s largest network of Marine Protected Areas and no-take marine reserves in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. In addition, the Australian government is currently making the final decisions on the establishment of what could be the world’s largest marine protected area.

In his address, Ban sent the message that the International Day for Biodiversity is an opportunity to look ahead. We now have the ability to establish large-scale marine reserves and identify areas of ecological and/or biological importance to protect the ocean. Next month’s Rio+20 World Summit in Brazil represents a major opportunity for the world to come together to represent a united front to help ensure the future we want for the ocean. Ban ended his address saying, “Rio+20 must galvanize action to improve the management and conservation of oceans through initiatives by the United Nations, Governments and other partners to curb overfishing, expand marine protected areas and reduce ocean pollution and the impact of climate change.”

Top image by John B. Weller

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