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A Global Effort Is Building to Save Our Oceans

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Imagine what the world’s leading ocean scientists, policy experts, private sector actors, and activists could accomplish if they united as a single force for ocean health.

We’re about to find out.

During the World Bank’s spring meetings, I had the honor of speaking with 120 of the leading thinkers and activists on oceans. It was a first gathering of organizations involved in the creation of the new Global Partnership for Oceans, announced earlier this year by President Bob Zoellick, and they came with enthusiasm and ideas.

Everyone in the room was united in their determination to restore the health and productivity of oceans through more collaboration and providing more resources for more results on an unprecedented scale. I saw a very strong alignment of interests – between the scientific community and civil society organizations, between the private sector and fishing communities, between bilateral donors and implementation agencies including the UN agencies who deal with oceans and other international bodies.

There was a feeling of urgency as the room discussed how to step up action to end decades of free-for-all exploitation, which, along with pollution, climate change, and the dramatic degradation of coastal and marine habitats have put oceans and the economies they sustain on the brink of collapse.

We all recognize that by working together, we will be able to pool resources more efficiently, avoid redundancies in research, data collection, and projects, and globally amplify the call for better oceans management.

An Enormous Task

A concerted effort of that magnitude is necessary, because returning the oceans to health and productivity is an enormous task.

Right now, 85% of fish stocks are fully exploited, over exploited, or depleted. Coastal and marine environments are being decimated at a time when they also provide essential services for protecting coastlines and sustaining marine and coastal tourism worth $160 billion per year. In recent decades we’ve lost 35% of coastal mangrove, 20% of corals have been destroyed and more have been damaged.

A further collapse of ocean ecosystems would exacerbate poverty and reverse hard-won development gains. For a quarter billion people worldwide, fisheries and aquaculture – worth $190 billion per year – provide their jobs and sustain their livelihoods, as well as provide their food source.

Many organizations have been working hard on oceans for the last 20 or 30 years, and looking around the world today, we see incredible work going on. Countries and organizations are working to make fisheries more sustainable and protect marine areas. The private sector is concerned about the supply of fish and has been taking action.

There is also a lot of work going on around integrated coastal zone management, and there are multiple efforts to stop land-based pollution destroying the economic productivity of coastal seas.

But all these disparate efforts are not enough to meet the scale of the challenges. Lessons are not being learned quickly enough and replicated. Success is not being shared widely enough.

Ambitious Targets

The meeting recognized that, and it saw the heightened interest and commitment from international leaders – including the UN secretary-general and the World Bank’s president, who addressed the group – to deliver on the promise of sustainable oceans set out in Rio in 1992.

There was a real sense that we have a window of opportunity on oceans right now that we might not have in another 10 years.

The time to act is now. A partnership at the global level will allow us to take all of this disparate work, lift up what works, and move to a greater impact globally that we have not been able to achieve in our separate efforts.

The targets we’re discussing include:

Fisheries: To enhance food security, ensure that economically rational rebuilding strategies are in place for at least half the world’s fish stocks currently identified as overfished. We'll also aim to increase the annual net benefits of fisheries.

Aquaculture: Support using the best available practices so two-thirds of the global fish supply comes from sustainable aquaculture.

Habitat: Work to more than double the coverage of marine protected areas to 5%.

Pollution: Work to reverse the trend of increasing sewage, nutrients and marine litter in targeted oceanscapes and identify cost-effective ways to reduce heavy metals in sediment.

In the coming weeks, we will be spreading the word about the partnership, and we will be amplifying the arguments for action on oceans when we return to Rio in June for the next UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365

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Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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