|TIME FOR SOLUTIONS 1998: U.N. International Year of the Ocean
By Traci Hickson
The United Nations has declared 1998 the International
Year of the Ocean as a celebration of this source of life and civilization. But this
International year is also a reminder of the need to protect this most precious of
resources, an affirmation of our commitment to safeguard the rights of future generations,
for which we hold our planet and its life-sustaining oceans' in trust. (Frederico Mayor,
Director-General of UNESCO, 1997)
The United Nations International Year of the Ocean signals
the need for a stronger commitment toward safeguarding the health of the world's oceans.
Despite current efforts to regulate fisheries and protect marine habitat, "life in
the world's estuaries, coastal waters, enclosed seas and oceans is increasingly threatened
- the overexploitation of species,
- physical alterations of ecosystems,
- introduction of alien species, and
- global atmospheric change (Marine Conservation Biology
According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO), 11 of the world's 15 major fishing areas and 69 percent of the world's major fish
species are in decline and in need of urgent management" (McGinn, State of the World,
1998). Eliminating these ecological threats, which also have grave socio-economic
implications, poses a serious challenge to citizens and governments throughout the world.
Solutions will require fresh thinking, open debate, and increased awareness. Over 400
marine scientists and conservation biologists recently announced five recommendations
necessary for protecting marine species and ecosystems. Citizens and governments worldwide
- Identify and provide effective protection to all
populations of marine species that are significantly depleted or declining, take all
measures necessary to allow their recovery, minimize bycatch, end all subsidies that
encourage overfishing and ensure that use of marine species is sustainable in perpetuity.
- Increase the number and effectiveness of marine protected
areas so that 20% of Exclusive Economic Zones and the High Seas are protected from threats
by the year 2020.
- Ameliorate or stop fishing methods that undermine
sustainability by harming the habitats of economically valuable marine species and the
species they use for food and shelter.
- Stop physical alteration of terrestrial, freshwater and
marine ecosystems that harms the sea, minimize pollution discharged at sea or entering the
sea from the land, curtail introduction of alien marine species and prevent further
atmospheric changes that threaten marine species and ecosystems.
- Provide sufficient resources to encourage natural and
social scientists to undertake marine conservation biology research needed to protect,
restore and sustainably use life in the sea (Marine Conservation Biology Institute, 1998).
Although the threats and needed solutions are as vast as
the ocean itself, many solutions depend on individual choices. Individuals have the
responsibility to "buy fish products that have been produced sustainably, ask where a
fish came from and how it was raised, and demand that policymakers support the
recommendations of scientists to close fisheries and reduce fishing effort" (McGinn,
State of the World, 1998). Consumer choices are also critical to campaigns such as the one
initiated by the Mangrove Action Project to fight the spread of destructive industrial
shrimp farming. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of low-lying coastal Mangrove forests
have been cleared to make room for commercial shrimp ponds that have enormous social and
environmental costs. The Mangrove Action Project has united with the recently formed
Industrial Shrimp Action Network to ask organizations to take a "shrimp break"
and refrain temporarily from purchasing or serving shrimp.
Besides making consumer choices, individuals also have the
power to influence their fellow citizens and governments. One individual, Bill Ballantine,
was instrumental in raising support for a system of "no-take" marine reserves in
New Zealand. New Zealand now has 13 no-take marine reserves which have diverse
conservation, economic, educational and recreational benefits. Ballantine, a Goldman
Environmental Prize winner, traveled throughout New Zealand talking at Rotary Clubs,
schools, meetings of fishermen and farmers, and reaching out to anyone who would listen.
His passion and his logic were convincing.
Even though you may feel a bit overwhelmed with the
enormity of the problems, remember not to underestimate the impact of your own personal
actions. Take some advice from Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society who thinks that everybody can really make a difference by just focusing on one
thing. "We should ask ourselves everyday -- how am I making an impact? Is it a
positive one or is it a negative one? I'm not saying you have to go out and sink a whaling
ship in order to make a difference; you really have to do what you do best....You just
have to ask yourselves a question: How can I apply myself to doing my planetary duty to
uphold my responsibility to future generations to try and make a better tomorrow. If we
start looking at things that way, I think that we can maybe try to turn this around"
(Interview on Every Living Thing).
Some Internet resources:
- United Nations Year of the Ocean Homepage:
- The Costeau Society:
- Marine Conservation Biology Institute:
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society:
- Mangrove Action Project: