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Why We Need to Save Our Oceans Now—Not Later

José Vicente Troya is the UN Development Programme (UNDP) expert on Ocean and Water Governance for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Over 10 million residents of Small Island Developing States depend on the Pacific Ocean for survival. Credit: IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2017 (IPS) - What if the blue fades away as seawaters become brown and coral reefs become white as marine grasslands wither and life below water vanishes?

This is already happening at a staggering rate. It’s a lose-lose for all: people and planet.

Fish stocks are declining. Around 80 percent of fishing is either collapsing or just fully exploited. The ocean is also being polluted at an alarming rate. Fertilizer run-off and 10 to 20 million metric tons of plastic debris enter the oceans each year and destroy biodiversity and ecosystems.

At this rate the number of dead zones will increase, and by the year 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight.

If we don’t take action now this trend may become irreversible. Recognizing this urgency, country representatives will gather at the Ocean Conference, 5 to 9 June at the UN headquarters in New York to address marine pollution, declining fisheries, loss of coastal and marine habitat and the vanishing life below water.

The Conference will focus will be on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. This SDG, along with 16 others, compose the sustainable development agenda globally adopted in 2015.

While several of the goals are to be achieved by the year 2030, most of the ocean-related targets must be attained by 2020 if we are to save our seas. Government commitments are crucial now. They range from sustainably managing marine and coastal ecosystems to effectively regulating harvesting, ending overfishing and unregulated fishing.

Governments also need to conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas and prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies, which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.

We need to act now.

Several innovative and inspiring practices are taking place in the world which could be shared and scaled-up. Latin American and Caribbean countries are cooperating to administrate multi-country marine ecosystems, which require a shared management.

With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), several countries in the region sharing large marine ecosystems (LMEs) such as the Caribbean Sea and the Humboldt Current System are jointly working towards addressing key aspects of the market forces that drive overfishing and weak governance leading to fisheries overexploitation and degradation of coastal and marine biodiversity.

They are also seeking to ensure the conservation and sustainable delivery of LMEs goods and services, which are essential to the livelihoods of local communities, national economies and life below water.

These efforts are taking place in a region where marine ecosystems are the pillar for domestic economies, particularly in the case of Small Island Development States (SIDS). Latin America and the Caribbean have 746 marine protected areas covering 300,000 km2 and several countries have committed to expand them.

Caribbean countries, recognizing the key role that the seas play for their future, are mainstreaming oceans into their national development planning and now are looking towards adopting the blue economy paradigm.

This is a development framework to foster equity in the access to, development of and sharing of benefits from marine resources, ensuring their conservation and sustainable use, as well as reinvesting in human development. The Caribbean SIDS have pledged to protect 20 percent of their coastal and marine zones.

In preparation to the Ocean Conference, UNDP is supporting 25 national consultations to identify and register contributions made by national governments, civil society and private sector towards the conservation and sustainable use of oceans (SDG 14).

Nine of these consultations are being held in the Latin America and Caribbean region. National stakeholders are sharing their best practices on pollution reduction and support to sustainable fisheries and coastal communities. Conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity, and removal of subsidies harming seas and their resources are also on the agenda.

Now is the time to save our ocean and all lives that depend on it. We need to act now, before the blue fades away.

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