Covering three-quarters of the globe, earth’s oceans are our most important shared resource. Billions of people rely on them for food security, they are the focus of important scientific research, play a vital role in the global economy, and regulate climate and weather. Various human activities, however, have put the oceans under threat.
Nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff, wastewater and sewage is contributing to oxygen-depleted dead zones where marine life can’t exist. Trash and other debris threaten wildlife and marine habitats, as well as human health and safety. Commercial fishing operations are seriously over-harvesting some fish stocks. Climate change and air pollution are causing life-threatening changes in ocean chemistry by increasing acidity.
With so much at stake and the scope so broad that no one person or country can take action alone, it is imperative for the international community to work cooperatively to protect and sustain the oceans.
For two days this month, representatives from nearly 90 nations met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the marine threats and solutions to address them. Only a small fraction of the world’s oceans is now protected, and more must be done.
Taking the lead, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to protect against overfishing by expanding a marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean to 782,000 square miles. It will be the world’s largest ocean preserve. Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, said that Central Pacific island nation next year would ban all commercial fishing in its own marine protected area, the size of California.
Over-fishing threatens the food supply of more than a billion people. To prevent it, steps need to be taken to prevent illegally caught fish from being sold. A United Nations effort to enhance oversight of fish landings, called the Port State Measures Agreement, has been ratified by many nations. But more support is needed before it can take effect.
Protecting the oceans requires that people better understand what can be lost. It also takes resolve and cooperation. Every nation wants to find solutions to the challenges facing the oceans in its own way and in its own time. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted, that’s not the way oceans work. The threats to the oceans know no boundaries. All nations must work together to solve the challenges facing our oceans. Not just for the future of marine life, but for the future of all life.