It is never too late to be wise.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Research on fish consumers conducted in 23 countries and involving 23,000 people by Globescan, a global insight, and advisory consultancy, and promoted by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) confirms the need to involve consumers in the actions to be taken in the future to protect our oceans: the choices are increasingly oriented toward products with packaging with little plastic and fish sourced from sustainable fishing. In the meantime, however, the situation of the seas and coasts is increasingly complex.

In the wake of the Decade of the Sea declared by UNESCO, which points to 2030 as the deadline for saving the planet’s waters, this year the slogan of the World Oceans Day, whose concept was originally proposed in 1992 by Canada’s International Centre for Ocean Development (ICOD) and the Ocean Institute of Canada (OIC) at the Earth Summit – UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008, is ‘Revitalization: collective action for the ocean‘. It calls everyone, in their own small way, to repair the damage done so far.

To achieve this, the overwhelming majority of the interviewees declared themselves willing to change their eating habits. The choices are increasingly oriented toward products with low-plastic packaging and sustainable fishing. This is the picture that emerges from international research on fish consumers conducted by Globescan in 23 countries and promoted by the Marine Stewardship Council. Data that confirm the need to involve consumers and the decision to launch the next call to action today. The crisis is global and the second United Nations Ocean Conference, hosted in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July by the governments of Kenya and Portugal, will also focus on collective action.

“This World Oceans Day, the MSC encourages everyone to commit to rethinking their daily choices by asking: what can we (as consumers and as nations) do today to make decisions with the health of our planet and oceans in mind?” asks Kurtis Hayne, MSC Canada program director.

The need to protect the balance of the ocean arises from the fact that in addition to being a source of life, it stabilizes the climate and stores carbon, acting as a giant sink of greenhouse gases. But it also directly supports human well-being, through food and energy resources. Covering more than 70 percent of the globe, Hayne explains that oceans are home to up to 10 million marine species, and regulate 83 percent of our global carbon cycle through coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and salt marshes. Wild fisheries directly employ something like 39 million people, and more than three billion rely on seafood as their primary source of protein.

What’s the perceived situation? According to the survey conducted by Globescan, a very slight majority believe that the damage caused by man can be resolved within the next 20 years, while the rest have a more pessimistic view. Among the threats perceived as most pressing to the oceans are pollution, climate change, and overfishing which impoverishes fish populations. As for the future, people are planning to buy more sustainable fishing products. But the road taken is very long.

A special mention must be made about the Mediterranean sea, which being a more closed environment, more markedly and quickly is affected and impacted by negative changes. Unfortunately, none can deny the fact that marine ecosystems and coastal landscapes are deteriorating. The marine ecosystem deterioration is due to climate change, plastic pollution, alien species, indiscriminate anchorages, and overfishing, while the coastal landscape degradation is due to the presence of houses, hotels, buildings, ports, and industries. Industrial installations, urban expansion, tourist structures, deforestation, and shaving of coastal dunes have almost entirely altered the profile of the coasts. To these, a direct impact has been added from the erosion of the beaches, a natural phenomenon aggravated by human activities. “In particular, the tampering of rivers and the demolition of coastal dunes have reduced and removed the supply of material for the formation of the beaches,” reports the WWF.

Coastal and marine ecosystems represent a heterogeneity rich in biodiversity. “From the sand dunes to the shallows, these are key areas for our survival and well-being,” explains WWF. For example, small-scale coastal fishing plays a fundamental role in the food security of coastal communities. Foreign tourists spend billions of euros on seaside tourism.

The Posidonia oceanica, commonly known as Neptune grass or Mediterranean tapeweed, meadows attenuate the force of the waves, mitigate the impacts of storm surges, capture sediments and, therefore, counteract erosion. These seagrass meadows are also a fundamental deposit of carbon, having stored from 11% to 42% of the total CO2 emissions of Mediterranean countries since the industrial revolution. Illegal coastal trawling activities, but also the anchors that plow the seabed and their chains are causing the strong regression of Posidonia in the Mediterranean.

Several coastal species are often over-exploited, due to the combined action of professional and recreational fishing. “The impact of the latter is either often underestimated or entirely ignored,” explains the WWF. The effects of illegal fishing must then be added up, which is reported by most of the marine protected areas.

The Mediterranean is also a climate change hotspot: the temperature is rising 20% faster than the global average. The effects of climate change, such as the sea-level rise and the increase in severity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena, threaten the integrity of natural systems and the survival of coastal communities. The role of climate change mitigation and the resilience of ecosystems such as coastal dunes and Posidonia meadows are strongly weakened by degradation caused by human activities.

In addition to land consumption, overbuilding and other activities that put coastal marine environments at risk, one of the main threats that come from the coast is the runoff, i.e. the flow of chemical components and particulate matter by rivers and rain, due to various human activities, from agricultural to industrial and urban waste. It certainly endangers algal forests and Posidonia meadows which provide a key refuge for many marine species, but also, the excessive increase in organic substances is the cause of eutrophication, a degenerative process that creates the ideal environment for the uncontrolled growth of algae, which consume much of the dissolved oxygen to the detriment of fish.

“The runoff is also partially responsible for plastic pollution: 4% of the plastic that is lost in the sea, in fact, is transported by rivers,” explains the WWF. Part of the remaining percentage of plastic that accumulates on the coasts and in the sea (78%) “originates from the activities that take place on the coast itself, first of all, tourism. Plastics and microplastics pose a risk to animals. Out of 560 individuals of common turtles of the central Mediterranean, a recent study revealed that 80% of the animals had fragments and remains of plastic in their stomachs, also found in species that humans usually eat.

To conclude, let’s bring two notes of hope. First, a recent review published in Marine Policy documented 533 new coral reef restoration projects in Indonesia over the past three decades which indicates a big rise in this kind of project. Coral reefs are of paramount importance for the well-being of our oceans, they protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, offer opportunities for recreation, and are a source of food and new medicines. Currently over half a billion people in the world depend on reefs for food, income, and protection. Second, today 539 fisheries around the world are engaged in the Marine Stewardship Council program for sustainable fishing, representing 19 percent of the world’s wild marine catch and positive progress toward the MSC’s goal of 30 percent by 2030.

One thought on “World Oceans Day – Defeating Deterioration And Degradation”
  1. Great piece! Thanks. I will join the conference in June. Our oceans must be protected. 60% of our body is made of water after all.

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