Marine management – aspiration and reality
WOR 7 The Ocean, Guarantor of Life – Sustainable Use, Effective Protection | 2021

Marine management – aspiration and reality

Marine management – aspiration and reality
> Humankind has divided the ocean into artificial zones in order to lay sole claim to ­specific areas and their resources. Species and water masses, however, migrate undisturbed across the borders of these zones, as do heat, pollutants and litter. Successful marine management therefore requires collective solutions, which must be based on transnational, cross-sectoral thinking and aim for the ­protection and sustainable use of the seas.
A constitution for the seas - fig. 8.3 mauritius images/Art ­Col­lection 3/Alamy

A constitution for the seas

> Who owns the sea? Humans have been asking this question ever since they began to compete with one another over fishing rights or shipping routes. For almost four decades, a legally binding answer has been enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It regulates who has jurisdiction over specific activities in the various maritime zones and obliges all actors to protect the marine environment – with little success so far, in the latter case, due to the failure to fully implement the Convention’s provisions.

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New approaches to marine management - fig. 8.12 Norbert Enker/laif

New approaches to marine management

> Despite clear stipulations laid down in the international law of the sea, there is a gap between the aspirations and realities of marine management. There are many reasons for this. They include a lack of money, knowledge and political will to implement applicable law; rigid structures and overlapping responsibilities hinder effective action. We must break out of these limitations – with the help of new actors and networks and by means of goal-oriented cooperation across levels, sectors and national borders.

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The ocean – flashpoint yet part of the solution - fig. 8.22 © Brandon Cole

The ocean – flashpoint yet part of the solution

> As a consequence of climate change, overfishing, habitat destruction, species extinction, overfertilization, pollution, shipping and many other stress factors, the state of the ocean is steadily worsening today. And yet the world needs an intact and productive ocean now more than ever. The immediate and highest priority must be to drastically reduce these stresses. There is disagreement, however, on how this objective can be realized, and it is not clear whether humanity currently has the will to initiate the necessary changes.

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Sustainable marine management – a Herculean task

For nearly four decades, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has provided a clear framework in international law for all human activities on the seas and oceans, thus establishing a strong foundation for communal governance of the ocean. The convention classifies the marine areas into zones, regulates who can lay claim to the ocean and its resources in the various regions, and includes provi­sions on shipping, seabed mining and conservation of the marine environment. Furthermore, it calls upon all nations to work together regionally and globally to address issues relating to the ocean, and provides guidance to the international community on how disputes between parties should be resolved.
To date, 168 countries, the vast majority of states, have ratified the Convention and undertaken to comply with its provisions. However, the present state of the oceans provides ample evidence that so far, the international community has in fact largely missed its goal of sustainable use. There are many reasons for this failure. Developing countries, for their part, often lack the necessary structures, funding, know-how, personnel and technology to implement international regulations and agreements at the national level. In industrialised countries and at the international level, cross-sectoral cooperation is often lacking, resulting in conflicting goals and measures that have less impact than was originally planned. Industry and business, in turn, are still seeking to exploit legal ­loopholes in order to maximize their own profits at the expense of the marine environment.
In view of the global impacts of climate change and the ongoing biodiversity and pollution crises, it is now widely accepted that recovery of the oceans cannot be achieved simply by applying stand-alone solutions. Instead, integrated approaches are neces­sary at all levels of marine management. This means that programmes for marine use must be planned and agreed using transparent procedures that involve all stakeholders and transcend sectors, zones and often borders as well. Marine conservation, in other words, does not begin at the coastline, but much further inland.
Decisions on marine use should always be made on a scientific basis, and local community interests must be considered in all cases. In this way, it can be ensured that innovative local solutions receive recognition at higher levels, and can then be implemented on a broader basis.
Subsidies for activities that are harmful to the environment should be abolished. The public funds previously used to finance those subsidies should be employed instead to promote projects that restore marine and coastal ecosystems. Such approaches will have the added benefit of enabling communities to nurture and use ecosystems sustainably. In that vein, the measures that promise the greatest success are those which revitalize biotic communities while simultaneously contributing to climate protection and improving local living conditions.
Opinions naturally differ on the scope of the changes required. While some experts believe that restructuring the economic and value systems is absolutely necessary in order to significantly reduce anthropogenic pressure on the oceans, others point out that a great deal would have been achieved ­already had the existing rules and regulations been implemented consistently. In any event, it will not ­be a straightforward process. Progressing ocean reco­very is a great challenge to humankind. Indeed, it is a task on a scale similar to that of mitigating climate change. The two must go hand in hand for humanity and the oceans to have a future.