UN Chief: Ocean's Biodiversity Must Be Protected

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Common Dreams

UN Chief: Ocean's Biodiversity Must Be Protected

Acidification, Over-Fishing Decimating World's Marine Ecosystems

by
Common Dreams staff

Humpback whale, Wilhelmina Bay, western Antarctic Peninsula. December 2010. (WWF / Michael Harte)

Speaking on the International World Biodiversity Day, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday warned that over-consumption and rampant pollution was threatening the world's ocean and marine biodiverity. "Despite its importance, marine biodiversity has not fared well at human hands," he said in a prepared statement.

"Commercial over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks is severe," he continued.  "Many species have been hunted to fractions of their original populations.  More than half of global fisheries are exhausted, and a further third are depleted.  Between 30 and 35 per cent of critical marine environments — such as sea grasses, mangroves and coral reefs — are estimated to have been destroyed.  Plastic debris continues to kill marine life, and pollution from land is creating areas of coastal waters 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."

Echoing Moon's message, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Diaz, the UN's Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that "human society has yet to learn about the value of the biodiversity of the oceans. Only four per cent of the marine ecosystem has been protected while the rest is facing severe threat,” and warned that oceans all over the world are fast turning acidic which could lead to destruction of the entire marine wealth.

Helping to confirm the severity of the crisis, a new report by the World Wildlife Fund, 'Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection’, argues climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and increased commercial activity from tourism and fishing are all contributing to the decimation of the world's intricate marine ecosystem and called for action to protect a large swatch of the southern Ocean to help curb further destruction.

The report unveils "a new vision for the creation of the world’s largest network of Marine Protected Areas and no-take marine reserves around the Antarctic," said WWF‘s Antarctic and Southern Ocean spokesperson Dr Michael Hart. “While Antarctic waters make up almost 10 percent of the world’s seas, less than one percent is fully protected."

Ahead of next month's Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, Moon says world leaders must come together to improve efforts to protect the ocean's valuable life and resources.

"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. By taking action at the national, regional and global levels, including enhancing international cooperation, we can achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, a crucial step in protecting marine biodiversity for the future we want."

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Antarctic Ocean Under Threat:

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: Message for the International Day for Biological Diversity

Oceans cover almost three quarters of the surface area of the globe. They are home to the largest animal known to have lived on the planet — the blue whale — as well as billions upon billions of the tiniest of microorganisms. From sandy shores to the darkest depths of the sea, oceans and coasts support a rich tapestry of life on which human communities rely. Fisheries provide more than 15 per cent of the global dietary intake of animal protein. Oceans and coastal areas provide invaluable ecosystem services — from tourism to protection from storms. Minuscule photosynthesizing plants called phytoplankton provide 50 per cent of all the oxygen on Earth.

Yet, despite its importance, marine biodiversity — the theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity — has not fared well at human hands. Commercial over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks is severe. Many species have been hunted to fractions of their original populations. More than half of global fisheries are exhausted, and a further third are depleted. Between 30 and 35 per cent of critical marine environments — such as sea grasses, mangroves and coral reefs — are estimated to have been destroyed. Plastic debris continues to kill marine life, and pollution from land is creating areas of coastal waters 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.

But, there is hope. A scientific review conducted in 2011 showed that, despite all the damage inflicted on marine wildlife and habitats over the past centuries, between 10 and 50 per cent of populations and ecosystems have shown some recovery when human threats were reduced or removed. However, compared to the land — where nearly 15 per cent of surface area is under some kind of protection — little more than 1 per cent of marine environments are protected.

Lately, some progress is being made, particularly with the establishment of large-scale marine reserves and documenting areas of ecological or biological significance in open-ocean and deep-sea habitats. On this International Day for Biodiversity, as we look ahead to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20) in June, we need to recommit to building on these advances.

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. By taking action at the national, regional and global levels, including enhancing international cooperation, we can achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, a crucial step in protecting marine biodiversity for the future we want.

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WWF: New report calls for protection for over 40% of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean

Antarctic waters are some of the most intact environments left on earth yet they remain under threat and unprotected, a new report released globally overnight from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance states.

The report, 'Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection’, says climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and increased commercial activity from tourism and fishing are threatening to unravel this intricate ecosystem.

The AOA’s research has identified over 40 percent of the Southern Ocean that warrants increased protection in a network of Marine Protected Areas.

WWF‘s Antarctic and Southern Ocean spokesperson Dr Michael Harte said the conservation organisation fully supported the AOA’s call for increased protection.

“The world has an unprecedented opportunity to create a legacy for future generations through new Marine Protected Areas to Australia’s south,” Dr Harte said

“This report unveils a new vision for the creation of the world’s largest network of Marine Protected Areas and no-take marine reserves around the Antarctic.

“While Antarctic waters make up almost 10 percent of the world’s seas, less than one percent is fully protected.

Dr Harte said the AOA is campaigning for the regulatory body, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, to adopt its ambitious plan for marine protection.

“To achieve these critical, visionary goals, the world needs visionary leadership,” Dr Harte said.

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