On World Oceans Day 2020, COAST’s chair Russell Cheshire reflects on mankind’s use of the Ocean and urges people to take action to make change possible in the way oceans across the world are managed.
Today we celebrate World Oceans Day, 24 hours in which we look at and celebrate the wonders of the seas – the wildlife, the health-giving, the restorative properties, the ability of the Ocean which covers over seventy percent of the Earth’s surface to enhance the air we breathe while simultaneously absorbing many of the mistakes we have made and continue to make. Governments around the world announce and delineate Protected Areas where vast tracts of water are to be allowed to recover from Mankind’s depredations; and yet; and yet…
Many – most – of these areas lack the management strategies that would actually enforce this protection. Why define Marine Protected Areas and still allow high-impact fishing methods to continue within these areas? Why permit the industrial extraction of finite and diminishing mineral resources from MPAs? Why let unsustainable aquaculture practices expand in these zones?
For too long, mankind’s use of the Ocean as an infinitely giving source of food and raw materials has depended on a refusal to look further than the next five to ten years. The results have been devastating: fish populations (not “stocks”!) have been reduced to a fraction of their original numbers and at the same time have shrunk in physical size – in some cases driven to and beyond the brink of extinction; large areas of seabed, once replete with shellfish reefs, seagrass meadows, kelp forests and mangrove swamps, have been reduced to sandy or muddy deserts; estuaries of major and lesser rivers have become outfall drains for sewage and chemical waste while simultaneously being “developed” into industrial and housing complexes that only add to the destruction of the Ocean.
Politicians generally speak fine words which are intended to assuage the fears of their electorate; some are genuinely concerned and have made a real difference in their constituencies. Others talk the talk with no intention of walking the walk, and a few have torn up previous legislation in astonishing acts of petulance; still more wilfully ignore laws and regulations to provide short-term profits for their friends.
This is all very dispiriting but there is yet some hope. People of all nations are becoming more aware of the plight of the Ocean; information is readily available for those who choose to seek it out and learn from it. The evidence of our own eyes and memories is a huge database of historical change; science can lend weight to these anecdotal records through detailed research and analysis. We must use this information to make those in government apply methods which will allow all areas of the World’s Ocean firstly to recover and then to restore itself to earlier levels of health, diversity and abundance. The time required for recovery will vary from place to place: some areas will start to recover very quickly, within 2 or 3 years; others may take several decades of patient waiting, watching and studying; but the Ocean does have the ability to repair itself if we will let it.
We then have the opportunity to manage the Ocean – or more accurately, our use of the Ocean – in a truly sustainable way “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
If we cannot do this, or if governments continue to abuse their power and authority for short-term political ends, then the future of the Ocean is in doubt. The saltwater will remain, but as a toxic, infertile desert which has the ability not to nurture life all over this small blue planet, but to destroy the life we know and enjoy.
Today, on World Oceans Day, I urge you to take action: tell your Governments what needs to be done by writing and talking to them. (If you are a politician in a position of power, think about the long-term future of your nation and community, not just how to persuade people to re-elect you.) Join a local, national or international group that shares your views and help them drive the changes necessary to protect and restore the seas around your coast and the whole world. If you can, go to the shore; think about what the Ocean gives to you; share it with others; perhaps take a few pieces of litter away from the sea. Change the way you see the sea as it has given you life; you can help restore it to good health. By doing this, you will enable future generations to enjoy healthy, happy lives.
Community of Arran Seabed Trust