To raise awareness about the role the United Nations and international law can play in the sustainable development and use of the oceans and their living and non-living resources, the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (link is external) (DOALOS) is actively coordinating different activities of the World Oceans Day.
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) coordinates in partnership with DOALOS the official United Nations World Oceans Day Portal (link is external), which is instrumental in building support for ocean awareness events on 8 June.
World Oceans Day is celebrated to remind everyone of the major role the oceans have in everyday life. They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. The purpose of the Day is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans. They are a major source of food and medicines and a critical part of the biosphere. In the end, it is a day to celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean.
– 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
– Around 8 600 000 tonnes of marine resources are illegally fished each year and 33% of fish stocks in the sea were being caught at unsustainable levels.
– Scientists are trying to develop strategies to deal with the various threats to the oceans and transnational agreements have been established to stop the deterioration of the seas, but the results are still discouraging.
Eleven years ago, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 8 as World Oceans Day in recognition of their importance to the health of the planet. The oceans generate most of the oxygen we breathe, absorb a large amount of carbon emissions, regulate the climate and feed the world’s population.
However, according to the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 66% of the oceans are degraded and only 3% of the world’s total land area is free from human hand.
These are some of the most alarming facts: 8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year; one third of marine mammal species are threatened, Endangered or Critically Endangered; and up to 8 600 000 tonnes of marine resources are illegally fished each year. The problem grows even more if we consider, moreover, that 33% of fish stocks in the sea are caught at unsustainable levels, that 60% are fished at maximum capacity and that although whaling is banned, these species are still dying as a result of collisions with boats and becoming entangled in fishing nets.
To this bleak picture we must also add the effects of climate change. The acidification of the sea has increased considerably in recent years, generating a significant impact on important habitats for marine biodiversity.
On World Oceans Day, Mongabay Latam reviews some of the main threats to marine ecosystems and the advances in science trying to save them.
Between 300 and 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste from industrial facilities are dumped into the world’s waters annually, says the IPBES report. As a result, scientists now report more than 400 dead ocean areas totalling about 245,000 square kilometres, an area slightly larger than Nicaragua and Honduras combined.
For decades, moreover, the oceans have become the great dumping ground for the plastic waste produced on land. Studies, says Jenna Jambeck, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia in the USA, show that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, which means that every minute a truckload of rubbish is dumped into the sea.
If we take 1980 as our starting point, plastic pollution in the oceans has increased tenfold and the impact of this growth can be seen in the five “plastic islands” that have appeared on the planet. This is where you can see large accumulations of garbage floating in the water: one in the Indian Ocean, two in the North and South Atlantic, and two in the North and South Pacific. The last one has been detected near the coasts of Chile and Peru, and covers more than 2 million square kilometers.
Plastic waste is fragmented into micro-particles, the product of the passage of time and solar radiation, and enters the food chain until it reaches humans. Marine biologist Shaleyla Kelez, president of the marine conservation institution Ecoceanica, says that “animals are assimilating plastic molecules and even the additives used to make them. These small particles, which are harmful to health, stick to the plankton and so species like the anchovy are consuming them”.
“50 years ago there wasn’t a single beach on this planet with plastic waste. Fifty years later there is not a single known place on this planet free of disposable plastics,” explains Juan Pablo Muñoz, a researcher at the Galapagos Science Center at the University of San Francisco de Quito, in Ecuador.
Some initiatives seek to clean the oceans of this invasion, however, many scientists agree that the only way to stop this problem is by reducing the consumption of plastics. The Galapagos National Park Directorate and the research team at the San Francisco de Quito University are working on software to simulate the path taken by the Galapagos Islands’ indigenous peoples.