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Oceans saved us, now we can return the favor

Current trends suggest pollution and overfishing could see as much plastic in the oceans as fish by mid-century

Current trends suggest that pollution and overfishing could see as much plastic in the oceans as fish by the middle of the century.

Humanity must heal oceans sickened by climate change, pollution and overfishing to save marine life and save ourselves, experts warned ahead of a major UN conference opening Monday in Lisbon.

By – decade after decade – a quarter of the CO. to absorb2 pollution and more than 90 percent of the excess heat from global warming, oceans have kept Earth’s surface livable.

Our species has returned the favor by dumping mounds of plastic waste into the sea, draining the deep blue of large fish, and poisoning coastlines with toxic chemicals and agricultural waste that create dead zones without oxygen.

“At least a third of wild fish stocks are overfished and less than 10 percent of the ocean is protected,” Kathryn Matthews, chief scientist at US-based NGO Oceana, told AFP.

“Destructive and illegal fishing vessels operate with impunity in many coastal waters and on the high seas.”

Nearly $35 billion in subsidies that exacerbate overfishing will face a fierce spotlight in Lisbon, despite initial steps toward a partial ban imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week.

At the same time, ocean water is made acidic by CO2 along with massive sea heat waves lasting months or more, coral reefs that support a quarter of marine life and provide livelihoods for a quarter of a billion people are killing off.

“We are just beginning to understand the extent to which climate change will harm ocean health,” said Charlotte de Fontaubert, the World Bank’s global leader for the blue economy.

The new password is 'blue food' - food from the sea that is both sustainable and just

The new password is ‘blue food’ – food from the sea that is both sustainable and just.

‘It is scary’

The five-day UN Ocean Conference, jointly hosted by Portugal and Kenya, has been delayed from April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing together thousands of government officials, companies, scientists and NGOs in search of solutions.

While they don’t all agree on what needs to be done, they largely agree on what’s at stake.

“If we don’t do the right thing, we could end up with a dead ocean,” Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries expert and professor at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.

“Think about that – Oh man, it’s scary.”

Pollution that, given current trends, could see as much plastic in the seas as fish by mid-century is also on the agenda, with proposals ranging from recycling to a complete ban on plastic bags.

From East Asian factory ships prowling the high seas to artisanal fishing boats plying tropical shores, how to make wild fishing sustainable will be high on Lisbon’s agenda.

The new password is “blue food” – food from the sea that is both sustainable and just.

“Wild ocean fish could be a climate-friendly, micronutrient protein source that could provide a billion people with a healthy seafood meal every day — forever,” Matthews says.

Also under scrutiny is the thriving aquaculture industry, where problems range from the destruction of precious mangrove forests to rampant antibiotic use.

Nearly 100 countries support a provision that would designate 30 percent of the Earth's land and ocean as protected areas

Nearly 100 countries support a provision that would designate 30 percent of the Earth’s land and ocean as protected areas.

End-of-year meetings

The conference can report trendlines for the first time for wild fisheries – which peaked in the 1990s – and for fish farming, each at about 100 million tons per year.

The Lisbon meeting will meet ministers and even a few heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, but it will not be a formal negotiating session.

But that won’t stop participants from pushing for a strong agenda for the oceans at two crucial summits later this year: the COP27 UN climate talks in November, hosted by Egypt, followed by the long-delayed COP15 negotiations on biodiversity. , recently relocated from China to Montreal.

Oceans are already at the heart of a draft biodiversity treaty tasked with ending what many scientists believe is the first “mass extinction” since a meteor wiped out terrestrial dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago.

A coalition of nearly 100 countries supports a cornerstone provision that would designate 30 percent of Earth’s land and ocean as protected areas.

For climate change, not so much.

Despite the dire impact of global warming and the key role oceans play in absorbing atmospheric CO2until recently, the seven seas have received little mention in the ongoing UN climate talks.

But science has made it clear that they need each other: Oceans will continue to suffer unless concentrations of greenhouse gases stabilize, and the fight against global warming will be doomed to fail if oceans lose their capacity to absorb CO2 and absorb heat.

A 3D approach to protect biodiversity on the high seas

© 2022 AFP

Quote: Oceans saved us, now we can return the favor (2022, June 25) retrieved June 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-oceans-favor.html

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