Our oceans – source of life
WOR 7 The Ocean, Guarantor of Life – Sustainable Use, Effective Protection | 2021

Our oceans – source of life

Our oceans – source of life
> The oceans and seas supply much of the oxygen we breathe and are a source of food for over a third of the world’s population. They provide livelihoods for millions of people and have a place in the hearts of many more as a haven of dreams, a spiritual home, or as a playground for sports and adventure. The seas also regulate the weather and climate and curb anthropogenic warming of the Earth. For all these reasons, the future of humankind is directly connected to the fate of the oceans.
Vital yet finite seas fig. 1.3: Phillip Colla/Oceanlight.com;

Vital yet finite seas

> For thousands of years, humankind lived with and from the ocean – all this time seeing it as infinite, boundless in its ability to provide food and resources, inviolable against every human encroachment. Today, the consequences of this human error are more visible than ever: reefs are dying, coasts collapsing, and in many places, fisherfolk are pulling in empty nets. This much is clear: if we wish to benefit from the ocean’s bounty, we must treat it with respect and recognise that even the planet’s largest habitat has its limits.

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An end to the infinity illusion

The ocean covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and is more vital for human wellbeing than ever. It provides people and the global economy with goods and services, material and non-material, whose monetary value is often impossible to quantify. According to the ecosystem services concept, they can be assigned to four categories: researchers distinguish between provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services from the sea.
Although the ecosystem services approach has sparked controversy among scientists, it has, over the past 25 years, done much to reveal the major extent to which human wellbeing depends on the ocean, as well as the likely adverse impacts if the condition of the oceans and seas were to deteriorate. The state of the world’s ocean is regularly investi­gated in international studies by bodies such as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). In its recent Global Assessment Report, the IPBES con­cludes that 66 per cent of marine habitats are experiencing significant human impacts and that the ocean’s functional diversity is therefore decreasing. The world’s largest habitat, once seen as vast and infinite, has long reached its limits.
International policy-makers and the ocean economy therefore face a challenge: to develop new and sustainable strategies for the use of the ocean. One possible solution is the blue economy model. The international ocean research community is also committed to more intensive cooperation and, during the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science (2021 to 2030), will help to build a shared information system, based on science-based data from all parts of the world’s ocean. The aim is to be able to predict the possible impacts of political or economic decisions on the ocean more effectively and discuss them in advance. Campaigners against the reckless exploitation of the ocean, however, are calling for a total renunciation of conventional economic models and a shift towards ecological concepts that would enable the ocean, in future, to fulfil all the demands made of it by human communities.