Ban warns of untold damage inflicted on seas, marking first World Oceans Day

Marine waste

8 June 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today marked the first United Nations World Oceans Day with a warning of the “terrible toll” human activity exacts on the world’s oceans and seas, with a new report highlighting the threat of the rising tide of marine garbage.

“Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources,” Mr. Ban said in his message for the Day.

He added that oceans are also affected by piracy and armed robbery, threatening the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports about 90 per cent of the world’s goods.

“Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans,” he said.

The Secretary-General also said that increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

Although World Oceans Day has been celebrated by many countries since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the General Assembly decided last year to make it an officially-recognized UN annual observance on 8 June.

The Day provides the world body with an opportunity to raise global awareness of the threats to the oceans which cover about two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, generate most of its oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide emissions, provide food and nutrients, regulate climate, and supply fishing and other marine resources for income.

The theme of World Oceans Day – ‘Our oceans, our responsibility’ – underscores “our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources,” said Mr. Ban.

The world must do more to implement the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, two experts told reporters in New York ahead of a panel discussion on the Day’s theme, sponsored by the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs.

“Indonesia calculates that we probably lose somewhere between $3 billion and $3.5 billion a year because of illegal fishing,” said Hasjim Djalal, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia.

The other big issue is climate change, which is compromising “the ability of the oceans to digest carbon and to process it in the way that it has done traditionally,” said David Freestone, Professor at George Washington University Law School and visiting Professor at the UN University (UNU). “The high-seas are 50 per cent of the surface of the planet and they constitute about 30 per cent of the carbon processing which takes place.”

In addition, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report stressed that the alarming quantity of litter thrown out to sea threatens people’s safety and health, entraps wildlife, damages nautical equipment and defaces coastal areas around the world.

“Marine litter is symptomatic of a wider malaise; namely the wasteful use and persistent poor management of natural resources,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“The plastic bags, bottles and other debris piling up in the oceans and seas could be dramatically reduced by improved waste reduction, waste management and recycling initiatives,” he added.

Mr. Steiner said that some of the trash, such as thin-film single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere, noting that “there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”

Boosting public awareness and economic incentives that favour recycling over dumping into the sea could also slash the amount of waste dumped into the ocean, he said.

The report, the first attempt to take stock of the marine litter situation in the 12 major regional seas around the world, noted that unsightly and unsafe ocean debris can cause serious economic loss through damaged boats, fishing gear, and contamination of tourism and agricultural facilities.

In related news, UNEP went online with its redeveloped World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) website, a decision-making tool providing the most current and relevant information about marine and coastal biodiversity and its status as a protected zone.

“Currently, somewhere around 12 per cent of the land is held in protected areas, but less than one per cent of the marine environment has been given such status, so this needs to change and change fast too,” said Mr. Steiner.

“It is our hope that the WDPA-Marine will help nations redress this imbalance and that in the next decade we will have achieved significant progress in protecting the seas through MPAs [Marine Protected Areas],” he added.

Among its achievements in protecting the world’s seas, UNEP introduced its first convention, the Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP), which includes a law passed on 1 May banning ships from dumping garbage into the Mediterranean, according to the agency’s news release.

For its part, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a set of technical guidelines aimed at helping the fisheries sector reduce its impact on fragile deep-sea fish species and ecosystems.

“These guidelines provide much needed guidance on the responsible way to approach deep sea fishing, and are a breakthrough in that they address both environmental and fisheries management concerns in an integrated manner,” said Ichiro Nomura, FAO Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Assistant Director.


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