This underwater life photo was finalist in the Photo Competition for World Oceans Day in 2019. Author: Cornelia Thieme Cornelia Thieme
Latest Ocean Data
Carbon emissions from human activities are causing ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss. (IPCC) The ocean has absorbed between 20 to 30% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions since the 1980s. (Special Edition of SDG Progress Report 2019)
The ocean has also absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. (IPCC) Ocean heat is at record levels, causing widespread marine heatwaves. (WMO) .
By 2100, the ocean is very likely to warm by 2 to 4 times with low emissions (RCP 2.6) and 5 to 7 times with high emissions (RCP 8.5) compared to observed changes since 1970. (UNESCO)
Over the past 30 years, there has been an average increase of ocean acidity of 26% since pre-industrial times. At this rate, an increase of 100 to 150% is predicted by the end of the century, with serious consequences for marine life. (Special Edition of SDG Progress Report 2019)
83% of the global carbon cycle is circulated through the ocean. Coastal habitats cover less than 2 per cent of the total ocean area but account for approximately half of the total carbon sequestered in ocean sediments.
“Blue carbon” - carbon stored in coastal and marine such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows - sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests and are now being recognised for their role in mitigating climate change (IUCN).
Roughly 80% of marine and coastal pollution originates on land - including agricultural run-off, pesticides, plastics and untreated sewage. (UNEP)
Nearly all countries have room to improve their coastal water quality. On a positive note, recent trends show that positive change is possible - 104 of 220 coastal regions have improved their coastal water quality from 2012 to 2018. (UN)
Every year, an estimated 5 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic enters the ocean, costing roughly $13 billion in economic costs per year – including clean-up costs and financial losses in fisheries and other industries. (UNEP) About 89% of plastic litter found on the ocean floor are single-use items like plastic bags. (UNDP)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, has 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that weighs a total of 80,000 tonnes. (UNDP)
More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by marine plastics - through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change (UNEP). Every year, more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals are killed by plastic debris. (UNESCO)
People and the Ocean
Around 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones - that is expected to increase to a billion by 2050.
65 million live in small island developing States (IPCC). In total, approximately 44 percent of the world's population lives within 150 kilometers of the ocean (UN Atlas of the Oceans).
Sustainable and climate-resilient transport, including maritime transport, is key to sustainable development. Around 80 per cent of the volume of international trade in goods is carried by sea, and the percentage is even higher for most developing countries (UNCTAD).
Marine fisheries provide 57 million jobs globally and provide the primary source of protein to over 50% of the population in least developed countries. (UN Global Compact)
15% of the animal protein that we eat comes from seafood, yet astounding waste persists in commercial fishing. (UNDP) Every year, fisheries waste about 10 million tonnes of fish—enough to fill 4,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. (UNDP)
Sustainable Blue Economy
Sustainable ocean-based economies are among the most rapidly growing in the world, providing benefits to many sectors of great economic value, such as fisheries, maritime transport, marine aquaculture, marine biotechnology, ocean energy production, seabed resources exploration, tourism and many others. (UNESCO)
Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at US$3 trillion per year or about 5% of global gross domestic product. (UNDP)
Effective and inclusive ocean governance is critical to the development of sustainable ocean-based economies. Since 2004, the United Nations has been helping approximately 80 developing countries build enough capacity to manage their own ocean space, resources and activities - to ultimately have a solid foundation for a sustainable blue economy.
Find out more about how the United Nations is helping to promote sustainable ocean-related economies.
About 80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas. The ocean-related tourism industry grows an estimated US$ 134 billion per year and in some countries, the industry already supports over a third of the labour force. (UN Global Compact)
Coral reefs are a significant tourist attraction. But due to coral bleaching and loss, the tourism industry is losing an estimated $12 billion annually. (UNEP) If lost ecosystem services from reefs are included, the annual cost is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2100. (UN)
Unless carefully managed, tourism can pose a major threat to the natural resources on which it depends, and to local culture and industry. For example, tourism contributes to marine plastic pollution, with huge amounts of plastic pollution ending up in rivers and eventually into the ocean. While some Small Island Developing States have made significant efforts in shifting towards sustainable tourism, much of the plastic still used in tourism is made to be thrown away and often cannot be recycled. (ONE PLANET)
60% of the world’s major marine ecosystems that underpin livelihoods have been degraded or are being used unsustainably. (UNESCO)
Between 30 to 35% of the global extent of critical marine habitats such as seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs are estimated to have been destroyed. (UNESCO)
There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom. The damage was largely caused by fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems. (UNESCO)
All species of sea turtles, 66% of marine mammals and 50% of seabirds have been affected by plastic pollution. (UNEP)
If carbon emissions continue to increase at the current rate, the ocean will corrode the shells of many marine organisms by the end of the century. (UNESCO)
A growing human population depends on marine biodiversity and healthy ocean ecosystems for economic and social benefits, such as high-quality food, pharmaceuticals and other materials, coastal protection, recreation, transportation, and renewable energy.
Marine Protected Areas
Over the last several years, the number and extent of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including marine sanctuaries, parks and reserves, have increased rapidly. In 2000, MPAs represented approximately 2 million km² or 0.7% of the ocean, since then there has been an over ten-fold increase. As of November 2019, the global coverage of MPAs was 27,185,099 km² or 7.5% of the ocean. (UNEP)
There has been significant progress on MPAs within national jurisdiction – from 12% in 2015 to 17.4% in 2019. (UN Report) But the majority of the ocean - the high seas that account for 61% of the ocean - are areas beyond national jurisdiction and not nearly as protected. In the high seas, MPAs count for 1.18%. (World Database on Protected Areas)
Many MPAs currently fail to meet thresholds for effective and equitable management processes, with widespread shortfalls in staff and financial resources . There is a need for further international collaboration to ensure that the MPAs that have been established, or that will be established in the future, are well governed and are able to achieve their desired conservation value.
The rate at which Key Biodiversity Areas - sites of greatest conservation importance – are being protected has slowed and could flatten by 2030. (UN Sustainable Development Goals Report)
Find out more about the law of the sea here.
Latest analysis reveals that the fraction of world fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels declined from 90% in 1974 to 66.9% in 2015.
Although there has been an increase in the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels, progress has been made in some regions - stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels increased from 53% in 2005 to 74% in 2016 in the United States and from 27% in 2004 to 69% in 2015 in Australia. (FAO)
It seems unlikely that the world’s fisheries can rebuild the overfished stocks in the very near future, because rebuilding requires time, usually two to three times the species’ lifespan.