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Thursday, June 1, 2023

‘Ocean Atlas 2017’ sounds wake-up call on escalating sea crisis

Bothered by the unsavoury conditions faced by oceans and coasts, a group of publishers is calling for local action and global regulations to raise ocean awareness, inspire societal change and protect the seas.

Barbara Unmüßig
Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation

The team, comprising the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin and Schleswig Holstein, The Future Ocean cluster of excellence in Kiel and the monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, publishers of the “Ocean Atlas 2017”, describe the publication as a “wake-up call”.

“Human activity is forcing unprecedented change on our oceans and coasts. With only 2% of the oceans fully protected, these are some of the most poorly governed regions in the world. Pollution, overuse and climate change are causing loss of habitat and biodiversity. A global rethink and local action is needed, urgently,” says Michael Alvarez Kalverkamp, spokesperson for the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

According to him, the oceans provide half of man’s oxygen and regulate the climate.

“They are one of the most valuable ecosystems our planet has to offer. They grant us food, climate stability, energy and recreation, but we are overfishing and overexploiting them, treating them like a dumping ground for animal, military and nuclear waste. As climate change causes them to warm up, the sea levels to rise and waters to acidify, our oceans are losing their biodiversity and productivity. Meanwhile coastal dead zones are expanding due to loss of oxygen,” he stresses.

The publishers disclose that, in 12 brief lessons, the atlas puts together the latest facts and figures on man’s impact on the oceans.

“It explains why we are seeing a rapid increase in acidity levels, how 90 percent of globally exploited fish populations are fully utilised, and 20% of them even overfished. Plus, the atlas shows what an alternative to problematic offshore fish farms could look like, which doesn’t rely on pesticides,” the team discloses.

“As the primary regulator of the climate, the impact of man-made climate change on the ocean is considerable,” says Martin Visbeck from GEOMAR, who is also spokesman from The Future Ocean, Cluster of Excellence.

He adds: “If we cross certain climate tipping points we could reach a point of no-return. Our coasts, the ocean’s’ ecosystems and humanity would suffer. But there’s some good news: We can avert this catastrophe. For the first time the oceans are on the international agenda with the sustainable development goal 14 (SDG) which calls for responsible use of the oceans’ resources. This is the focus of our research in Kiel. We are developing knowledge-based solutions to help preserve the ocean and its ecosystems.”

“Deep-sea mining poses the greatest future threat to the oceans,” says Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “Harvesting raw materials from the seabed will damage its fragile eco-system irreparably, before we have even begun to understand the impact it will have on the seas, climate and land. The International Seabed Authority has issued 14 new exploratory licenses since 2013. That’s as many as in the last 12 years put together. Mining will begin in the next few years. It is of the utmost urgency that we impose a global moratorium on the extraction of raw materials and deep-sea mining until we understand the potential consequences and have set necessary boundaries.

“The global political system governing the protection, management and sustainable use of the oceans is completely inadequate. It is poorly implemented and suffers from fragmentary jurisdiction. We need comprehensive governance with effective methods of sanctioning.”

“The oceans are pushed to their limits by pollution and waste,” says Dirk Scheelje, on the executive board at the Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein. “Every year eight million tonnes of plastic rubbish end up in the oceans and the resulting microplastic sinks into the depths. Poisonous microplastic gets swallowed by fish which end up on our plates and in our stomachs.

“International trade pollutes our oceans with leaking fuel and emissions from 90.000 ships shifting nine billion tonnes of cargo every year. Cruise ships are a further burden on the oceans as they venture into more and more remote areas. Tourism with its construction, sewage and traffic causes massive damage to the coastal seas. It’s imperative that coastal and maritime tourism is made more sustainable, if we want to preserve the quality of the seas and coasts for the next generations.”

The Ocean Atlas will be presented by the authors and other experts at a side event of the UN Ocean Conference in New York on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

According to Kalverkamp, the Ocean Atlas is free of charge and can be distributed as a teaching aid to educational institutions. The atlas is available online here:  www.boell.de/oceanatlas

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