While oceans are in many respects the heart of our ecosystem, their sustainable existence is threatened by our actions.
The first World Oceans Day was celebrated in 1992 after the Canadian government proposed the idea at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 2008, the United Nations recognised the initiative officially.
“We have to ensure that oceans continue to meet our needs without compromising those of future generations. They regulate the planet’s climate and are a significant source of nutrition. Their surface provides essential passage for global trade, while their depths hold current and future solutions to humanity’s energy needs.”
The words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon list but a few of the many benefits oceans provide to humanity. Oceans, covering 72 per cent of the globe, are indeed very generous to us.
Yet, they are heavily polluted with manmade debris. Annually, at least eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the ocean. Consequently, marine life suffers greatly: fish and seabirds are poisoned when they accidently eat plastic particles, and many animals, including seals, get helplessly entangled in plastic and suffer a slow and horrible death.
Oil spillages, and failing sewage systems, contaminate the sea, and over 760,000 tonnes of nuclear waste leaked into the ocean following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
When we are not killing marine life directly, we are driving their mass extinction through overfishing and by causing climate change. An astonishing 63 per cent of global fish ‘stocks’ are considered overfished, and the remaining fish are endangered: 99 per cent of European eels, and 95 per cent of Southern bluefin and Pacific bluefin tunas, are now lost.
Inventions, such as the floating barrier produced by the Ocean Cleanup Project, and the promotion of conservation methods such as fishing quotas, can be applauded as a positive step towards restoring the health of the oceans. Yet, Population Matters believes that it is crucial to bring population back into the conversation about environmental policy.
Environmental awareness and improved sustainability are a good start, but ultimately improvements per capita are only one side of the story. The total number of people is an equally important variable in the calculation of human impact.
For that reason, Population Matters promotes smaller families, and lobbies actively for the empowerment of women, improved family planning facilities, and better sex education and reproductive health education.