Ocean science and technology critical to restore deteriorating global marine environment, warns latest UN assessment.
21 April, New York -- The world is at risk of losing many of the benefits the ocean provides, warns the latest United Nations assessment on the state of the world’s ocean, which was released today, ahead of Earth Day (22 April).
The first World Ocean Assessment (WOA I), released in 2015, had warned that many areas of the ocean had been seriously degraded, mostly due to the failure to deal with the pressures caused by human activities, including fishing, aquaculture, shipping, oil and gas exploitation, pollution and the release of greenhouse gases.
The latest assessment notes that the situation has not improved -- and that many of the benefits that the ocean provides to people such as oxygen, food, jobs, medicine and climate regulation are increasingly being undermined by human activities.
Considered the only comprehensive global analysis that looks at social, environmental, demographic and economic trends affecting the state of the ocean, the assessment calls for an integrated sustainable management of coasts and the ocean, driven by science, technology and innovation.
“Better understanding of the ocean is essential,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the launch. “As the assessment makes clear, ocean sustainability depends on us all working together - including through joint research, capacity development and the sharing of data, information and technology.”
Despite improvements in our understanding of the state of the world’s ocean and its marine life in recent years, there are still significant gaps in scientific knowledge and capacity needed to ensure responsive policies that can help restore and sustain ocean health.
“We have only seen about ten percent of the ocean. So much of the ocean is yet to be explored and understood,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist and President of Mission Blue. “This is the time to step back and dive in to really look at the problem; look at the solutions to see how the interests of humankind are so connected to the ocean.”
“The ocean is in trouble,” she added. “We need the ocean and the ocean now needs us to take care of the systems that make our existence possible.”
Key Takeaways on the State of the Ocean
- The alarming pace of sea-level rise, combined with increasing storms and coastal urbanization, has led to coastal erosion and flooding in coastal cities.
- Rising carbon dioxide emissions have led to ocean acidification and together with warming and deoxygenation resulted in loss of biological diversity.
- The ocean heat content has more than doubled since the 1990s, severely affecting marine life and ecosystems.
- The number of “dead zones” or areas with reduced oxygen in the ocean has increased from more than 400 globally in 2008 to about 700 in 2019.
- Around 90 percent of mangrove, seagrass, and marsh plant species — as well as 31 percent of species of seabirds — are now threatened with extinction.
- Marine litter is present in all marine habitats, affecting the environment and marine organisms through entanglement, ingestion and rafting of invasive species.
- Overfishing is estimated to have led to an annual loss of $88.9 billion in net benefits.
- Human-mediated movements have introduced about 2,000 marine non-indigenous invasive species, some of which pose significant biosecurity and biodiversity hazards.
Approximately 15 per cent of all sandy beaches worldwide are seeing retreating shorelines at an average trend of 1 m/year or more over the last 33 years.
Ocean Science and Technology
“The Regular Process [the assessment] is absolutely key for developing the priorities for ocean science because it identifies stressors and impact - and this gives us information about where we have to find solutions,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission – the body responsible for supporting global ocean and science, including the implementation of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 to 2030).
The assessment informs the critical work taking place during the Decade of Ocean Science and the soon to be launched UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021 to 2030) – both established to address the growing need for knowledge and capacity to safeguard the health of and improve people’s relationship with the natural environment.
Recent decades have allowed a better understanding of the marine environment, prompting responses for mitigating or reducing pressures and their associated impacts on the ocean. According to the assessment, analysis of the impacts of pressures and their cumulative effects remains limited, consequently leading to a general failure to understand, safeguard and put in place an integrated management of the ocean and coasts. Going forward, further advancing ocean science and technology, and ensuring a robust science-policy interface are critical to achieving sustainable ocean management.
Key Takeaways on Ocean Science
- Innovations in sensors and observation platforms have substantially improved — for example, since 2012, the technology has allowed researchers to discover nearly 11,000 new marine benthic invertebrate species such as crustaceans and mollusks, and more than 200 species of fishes since 2015.
- Some responses to mitigating or reducing pressures and their associated impacts on the ocean have improved since 2015, including the establishment of marine protected areas and, in some regions, improved management of pollution and fisheries.
- Innovations have led to both positive outcomes, such as increasing efficiencies in energy generation as well as negative ones, including overcapacity in fisheries.
- Although understanding of the value of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs is improving, there are still substantial knowledge gaps particularly on responses of coral reef communities to climate change.
- Global disparities in understanding the state of the ocean remain apparent, particularly across Oceania, Africa and South America.
- Many regions, in particular those with least developed countries, still lack access to technologies that can assist in using marine resources sustainably.
Regional disputes and geopolitical instabilities may impede the implementation of global and regional treaties and agreements, thereby affecting economic growth, the transfer of technologies and the implementation of frameworks for managing ocean use.
ABOUT WOA II
WOA II is a comprehensive overview of the state of the ocean and the relationships between the ocean and humans, covering environmental, social and economic aspects. It is the newest outcome of the only integrated assessments of the world’s ocean at the global level along all three pillars of sustainable development. The first assessment, which was released at the end of 2015, established a baseline for measuring the state of marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects. WOA II focuses on trends observed since the publication of WOA I and current gaps in knowledge and capacity.
Links to full report:
WOA II Volume 1
WOA II Volume 2
Launch of WOA II - 21 April 2021
Webinar on strengthening the science-policy interface for ocean sustainability
Web series: The Science-Policy Interface and Ocean Sustainability
Please note that the majority of the assessment was written before the COVID-19 outbreak. Some mention of the effects of that pandemic has been included, for example, in the sections of chapter 8A dealing with fisheries, shipping and tourism.
However, the full implications of the pandemic on human interactions with the ocean are still being worked out and will need to be explored fully in the next assessment. Nevertheless, the ocean and the services that it provides will have an important role in the recovery from the pandemic. It is hoped that the information in the present assessment will help with that process.
21 April 2021