Our lives are anchored to the ocean in Asia and the Pacific. Yet, if we drift with the currents, we can wave goodbye to the ocean we know and love. Here are five reasons why we need to speed up our voyage to healthy seas, as told by the authors of this year’s theme study, Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific.
1. Oceans keep our region afloat.
It’s the ocean’s world — we’re just living in it. Oceans contain 99 per cent of the earth’s living space, within which coastal systems battle climate change by absorbing carbon. They are a crucial provider of food, employment, trade and a unique sense of identity. Shipping has been the backbone of economic development in Asia and the Pacific, which represents the largest share of seaborne trade. Fisheries make up most of the employment and food security in coastal communities.
Given the importance of oceans for our survival, a lot is at stake. As seas impact life across the region, many challenges in their protection and sustainable use lie in the transboundary and complex nature of ocean management. Regular dialogue and partnerships among all ocean custodians are essential to fundamentally transform our marine environment.
2. Without data, we’re swimming in the dark.
Asia and the Pacific is home to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, yet we know little about this expansive area. With only enough data to monitor two out of ten targets for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water, we need a full picture of the ocean to fight for it.
Ocean data are not easy to come by. Much needs to be measured beneath the surface of the ocean, and this is costly. Existing data are fragmented and non-harmonized, making it difficult to compare geographically and analyse trends over time.
A sea-change requires ocean data to move up on the world’s priority list. We need joint efforts to support and resource national statistical systems to regularly produce ocean statistics. Regional and global collaboration to advance standardization and harmonize existing data holdings must expand and intensify to shed light into the ocean’s depths.
3. We need to sail further and cleaner.
For centuries, oceans have been connecting societies across great distances, serving as a natural transport resource for the global economy. Currently, more than 80 per cent of international trade is transported by shipping with two-thirds of these operations concentrated in Asia.
But access to regular and affordable shipping services are unevenly distributed with many developing states in the Pacific still struggling to connect. In addition, as global trade continues to expand, shipping is taking an increasing toll on the health of the oceans.
Working together on achieving a more inclusive, efficient and “green” shipping in Asia and the Pacific is a chance to transform a challenge into an opportunity and play a decisive role in protecting our oceans while leaving no one behind.
4. We’re hooked on fish.
Asia and the Pacific is the world’s largest producer of fish. In the region, fisheries provide food and income to more than 200 million people, and more than 50 million people are employed in the sector. In fact, 84 per cent of the global population engaged in fisheries and aquaculture are in Asia and the Pacific.
Despite their vital importance, fisheries are facing severe threats from climate change, environmental degradation and overfishing. Such threats are amplified in coastal fisheries close to highly populated areas with strong demand from growing Asian economies. The challenges of managing marine capture fisheries lie in our ability to govern and enforce fisheries’ legislation. Multilateral agreements and voluntary instruments are in place, but they must be translated into tangible results at the country level, including fisheries’ laws and policies. As a region sustained on fish, we need to also cooperate in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
5. We’re drowning in plastic.
Plastic waste in the ocean could triple by 2050 — in just 30 years — unless we take transformative action. Asia and the Pacific is the source of 31 per cent of the global volume of macroplastics and 44 per cent of microplastics.
Strategic policies must target both our personal actions and national regulations, including single-use plastic bans and economic incentives and disincentives to reduce the demand and supply of plastic products. Enhancing waste management processes with better sorting, recycling, collection and disposal is also necessary. While governments can promote regulations, investment and financing of new technologies to develop sustainable alternatives to plastic and to improve waste management, all stakeholders must contribute to reducing plastic pollution, including individual consumers, the private sector, academia, scientists and civil society organizations.
So, what can we do? It seems like the challenges are as deep and wide as the ocean itself. One thing is clear: we need to dive deeper, together. During the Decade of Action, we have no time to waste to work together with our compass set to sustainable oceans.