Sunday, 17 October 2010

Rescuing our oceans in the International Year of Biodiversity

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. It is also the year when international agreements and meetings have failed many of our most iconic species – like Atlantic bluefin tuna and polar bears - whilst admitting they have monumentally failed to halt the loss in overall biodiversity, and that even high-profile conservation for tigers has not worked.

Behind the headlines and charismatic species of course, is a much bigger problem, thousands of less photogenic or less media-friendly species are being lost around the world, pushed to the brink of extinction by human activity.

We are bad enough at failing to notice or take action on land, but when we get to the world's oceans, we're even worse. What goes on out at sea is out of sight and out of mind. Direct threats like fishing and dredging, and less direct threats like climate change and pollution all exact a deadly toll on the world's marine life. From the smallest corals to the biggest whales, they are feeling the impact. The statistics are shocking:

90% of big fish (sharks, tuna, cod, salmon, etc) have gone from our oceans since the middle of last century. Most species of albatross and turtles are endangered.Some whale species still have not recovered from commercial whaling last century, others are still being hunted today, and yet others are at risk of extinction from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, or pollution and habitat destruction.Entire ecosystems have been changed, with bottom trawling having ripped up oyster beds, and trashed coral covered seamounts.

In some fishing nets 80% or more of what is caught and killed are non-target species. This means the deaths of millions of sharks and hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises every year.And in our determined race to keep our fish counters full we are reaching ever further afield, ever deeper down, and exploiting previously unpalatable species.

Our oceans can't take it. That's why Greenpeace is campaigning against the destructive activities going on in our seas, as well as promoting a sensible solution: Marine Reserves.

Marine Reserves are protected areas at sea, off limits to all destructive activity, including fishing. They are the chance for our oceans to get some respite, and for species to thrive and replenish. They work. It’s a simple concept – but protected areas yield more species, bigger numbers of each species, and bigger animals. They also make sense – the current situation is basically a right to free plunder anywhere on our high seas (outside national waters) – that results in a competing race for resources, with some short term profit for a few people, and long term losses for our seas.

Seas which are vital to the health of our entire planet. As well as being the source of a key form of protein – particularly important for those in the global south, our seas help to sustain life and play a crucial role in buffering some of the worst effects of Climate Change (impacts which are themselves affecting marine life too).

That's why Greenpeace has relaunched its Roadmap To Recovery for the oceans. We've updated our 2006 report to include an Emergency Rescue Plan, and suggest areas on our high seas that we should protect, and why.

Marine Reserves are vital, but they need to be big, covering somewhere around 40% of our oceans, and they need to be fully protected. And they need to be established quicker. Since we launched the initial report in 2006 we have seen some great advances in the creation of large Marine Reserves in national waters, like Kiribati, Hawaii and the Chagos Archipelago. But we need to do much more, and protect our high seas too.

That’s why we’ll be in Japan and at the CBD meeting to call for the real protection of our oceans, via networks of High Seas Marine Reserves. Maybe, just maybe, the international year of biodiversity can end on some good news.

If we want healthy seas, a healthy planet, thriving populations of species we care about, and for future generations to be able to eat responsibly-sourced fish – we need to act now.

Take action: sign our marine reserves petition.
Willie Mackenzie - oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK

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