- 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
New approaches to marine management
The ocean – flashpoint yet part of the solution
Sustainable marine management – a Herculean taskFor 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.