Officials from around the world are meeting this week to discuss protecting the world’s oceans amid climate change and overfishing. The Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth is being held in The Hague. The summit runs through April 25th.
Summit organizers estimate 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coastline. Nearly 700-million people live in low-lying coastal areas just 10 meters above sea level. And 13 of the world’s 20 biggest cities are on the coast. What’s more, up to 12 percent of the population relies on oceans for their livelihood.
Netherlands Agriculture Minister Sharon Dijksma is chair of the oceans summit. She said, “For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive. In this century, he is beginning to realize that in order to survive he must protect it.”
She said protecting the oceans is necessary with global population expected to grow to 9-billion by 2050.
“Are we really willing to stop the moral outcry that still almost one-billion people go hungry to bed every day? Are we willing to stop the overexploitation of our natural resources, especially fish stocks? You, we, as global leaders, ocean practitioners, businesses, scientists, NGOs, civil society and international organizations, have to find answers to these questions [in] the coming days.”
Dijksma said that “combined action and partnerships for healthier and productive oceans can drive sustainable growth and shared prosperity.”
“Let’s face the facts,” she said, “Eighty percent of all life on the planet is found in the oceans. The ocean provides a global life support system that helps regulate climate and supplies half of the planet’s oxygen needed for one in every two breaths that we take.”
She added that food security cannot be maintained without sustainable fisheries.
“Fish contributes 17 percent of the animal protein consumed by the world population and thus is a critical source of food – with demand expected to double in the next 20 years.”
The three major threats to ocean health are overfishing, habitat change and pollution. However, Dijksma says efforts to eliminate these threats often have been unsuccessful. That failure, she says, contributes to tensions between growth and conservation.
World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim addressed the summit with a video message, saying oceans are fundamental to life. Kim says over the past decade, the bank has increased its support for fisheries, pollution reduction and habitat conservation. In other words, support for what’s called Blue Growth.
“For example, we’re working with Sierra Leone and Liberia to reduce illegal fishing and make catches sustainable. As a result, local communities have increased their catches by as much as 40-percent. In the Pacific, we’re partnering with several countries and regional agencies to support smart limits on tuna fishing, which could increase local revenues by $250 million each year,” he said.
Also addressing the conference was Arni Mathiesen, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture.
He said, “There are many good reasons why we need to push the blue agenda forward. The health of our planet itself, our health and food security depend on how we treat the blue world. We cannot keep using marine and aquatic resources as if they were endless. And we cannot keep using our oceans as a waste pool.”
He warns oceans are rapidly losing biodiversity. Many regions report a sharp rise in invasive species, threatening local marine life. He said FAO programs aim to strengthen local fisheries to better manage and maintain fish stocks. Mathiesen said countries, agencies and organizations at the summit need first to commit and then to act.