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4 Sustainable Use of Our Oceans – Making Ideas Work

Hope for the oceans

Hope for the oceans
> The extent of the pollution and destruction of marine habitats is daunting. However, there are already numerous examples showing how marine conservation and the sustainable use of ma-rine resources can be achieved – not only through international agreements but also through measures adopted at the local level. It is also encouraging that the United Nations has declared marine conservation to be one of the major development goals for the future.
Roadmap towards a sustainable future? © Nick Cobbing

Roadmap towards a sustainable future?

> Comprehensive and sustainable use of our natural resources is one of the major challenges for the future. The United Nations is therefore currently developing an agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap to 2030. One of these goals is sustainable use of marine resources. However, it is individual countries’ commitment that will determine whether the world comes close to achieving this ideal.

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Protecting the seas is possible © Kimberley Coole/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

Protecting the seas is possible

> Various agreements on the conservation of the marine environment and the sustainable use of marine resources have been implemented successfully around the world. In the process, however, it has become apparent that there is a strong preference for conservation measures that can be adopted at least cost. If more progress is to be achieved, all groups within society must play their part in demanding and taking action to save our seas.

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How marine conservation can work

Despite the plethora of bad news about the state of the oceans, there are many positive examples which prove that it is possible to protect the seas and utilize marine resources sustainably. They in­clude the decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to introduce stricter emission limit values for shipping. Among other things, the maximum sulphur content of heavy fuel oil will be reduced from 2020, and in some sea areas, even more stringent regulations apply. These areas, known as ECAs, have been established for some of the ­busiest shipping routes where emissions from ships contribute significantly to coastal air pollution. They currently include the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and the waters off the coast of the US and Canada. Another success is the commercial whaling moratorium, which entered into force in 1986, spel-ling the end for the commercial hunting of the great whales. Although Iceland, Japan and Norway con­tinue to hunt whales, the number of whales killed has decreased dramatically. The fact that countries are able to reach agreement despite national self-interests is evidenced by the European Union’s new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). For many years, the EU’s fishing fleet was far too large, but there was vehement opposition to any restriction on fishing from politicians keen not to lose votes, especially in structurally weak regions. Accordingly, the annual Total Allowable Catches (TACs) set by fisheries ministers for the various species were far higher than recommended by fishery scientists, resulting in the progressive overexploita-tion of many stocks in EU waters. With the new CFP, fishing in the EU will henceforth be based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The MSY is the maximum catch that can be taken from a species’ stock over an indefinite period without jeopardizing that stock’s productivity. The aim is to regulate fishing in a way which allows fish stocks to recover, enabling them to be fished at an optimal level in future. Al­though discussions on how the new fisheries policy should be implemented day-to-day are still ongoing, a start has been made. If the marine environment is to be protected more effectively, based on the sustainable management of its resources, there must, in future, be better coordination between its conservation and diverse uses. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an important tool in achieving this goal. MSP is a means of coordinating the various coastal and marine interests. Economic activities in the marine environment, e.g. fishing, offshore wind farm construction, dredging for marine aggregates (i.e. gravel and sand), shipping and oil production, must be balanced against other uses such as leisure and recreation and, not least, conservation. With its Federal Spatial Planning Act (Raumordnungsgesetz), Germany is a good example of how multiple interests can be reconciled through regulation. As ever, marine conservation is most effective when the public itself takes action. A well-informed public with a good understanding of the marine environment can exert the necessary pressure to effect policy changes. To that end, however, it is often necessary to provide support, in the form of aid projects, so that people are able to take responsibility for the sustainable management of their environment. This capacity building is now a policy demand at the highest level and is enshrined in the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new sustainability agenda for the years to 2030. It is encouraging that with this agenda, marine conservation is, for the first time, a key global goal.