The first decade of the 21st century has been a devastating period for the oceans. Oceana warns that unless immediate action is taken, the damage will become irreversible. The international marine conservation organization estimates that since the beginning of the 21st century, 70 million tonnes of fish have been caught and afterwards discarded dead, 110,000 hectares of seagrass meadows that were home to thousands of organisms have been destroyed and 99% of the marine species in danger of extinction still lack conservation plans.
Technological advances that have been deployed to exhaust ocean resources maximize the short term profits of fishing industry, without taking into account the sustainability of the livelihood of millions of people nor the preservation of ocean ecosystems. Meanwhile, most of the deep seas remain unexplored, meaning that in many areas, destructive fishing gear is authorized without even knowing what biodiversity is being destroyed. Last year for example, Oceana discovered a deepsea coral reef in European waters and found fishing lines entangled in it.
“Less than 1 percent of global ocean surface is effectively protected nowadays”, explained Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana Europe. “Moreover, there is not a single fish stock that is responsibly managed in the world. In a number of cases, like for some Mediterranean sharks, stocks have been reduced by up to 99% or their original population in the 20th century. World resources are being plundered for the benefit of just a few and decision makers do not seem to be willing to stop it.”
While oceans make up more than two thirds of our planet, little has been done to protect them, especially when compared to conservation efforts on land. Oceans as a whole are affected by contamination and by climate change, since they absorb 80% of the heat generated by greenhouse effect gases and 30% of CO2 global emissions. Fishing activities take place in 94% of the oceans and 85% of fishing stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted according to the FAO. Coordinated and urgent measures are needed to halt this dangerous trend.
The situation is not better in the European Union. However, this year, the Common Fisheries Policy is undergoing a reform process, providing another opportunity to right what has failed in the past.
EUROPE: SOME FACTS
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“The oceans are in trouble, the science is clear, and the solutions exist. What is missing is the political motivation for change. World Oceans Day shouldn’t be a day for celebration in Europe, but rather a cry for help and a call for action,” said Xavier Pastor, Executive Director for Oceana in Europe.
While the task at hand seems daunting, the reality is that the situation can be turned around. It is important for people to understand the dire state of our oceans, so as to grasp why it is so important that action be taken now. Consumers can play a role by, for example, avoiding threatened and endangered species like Bluefin Tuna and Mediterranean hake (among many others), and encouraging restaurants and retailers to refuse to sell them. But the bulk of the responsibility for turning the problem around lies in the hands of European policy makers, who must make sure that effective policies and management measures are put into place.
In addition, Marine Protected Areas that are chosen based on scientific research and are well managed and monitored, must be put in place. In some areas, those MPAs that have been established exist in name only, as little is done to control the activities taking place in them.
“If national and EU decision makers are willing to put politics aside and prioritize our oceans, and the millions of Europeans that depend on them not only for food, but also for their incomes and pleasure, we can reverse the tide,” concluded Pastor. “The recovery of our seas depends on strong policies and legislation that end harmful subsidies and the wasteful practice of discards, create MPAs that are large enough, well managed, and in the right places, end destructive fishing practices, and follow scientific advice.”