Covering more than 70 percent of our earth’s surface and home to 700,000 to two million species, the ocean is the lifeblood of our planet. Besides bringing a sense of serenity through the gentle - albeit sometimes roaring - rhythm of its waves, the deep blue sea employs millions of workers, feeds billions of people and generates trillions of dollars of the world’s economy.
However, despite having such a profound effect on our lives, oceans are often taken for granted. As vast as they may seem, the resources provided by our oceans are finite.
In recent decades, threats such as unsustainable and illegal fishing, tourism and climate change have increasingly threatened coastal and marine resources.
In Asia, where more than 30 million people rely on these resources for their livelihoods, the stakes are high.
While the region’s exponential economic growth has benefitted its communities through higher incomes and a better quality of life, ever-increasing commercial, agricultural and industrial activity has also exacerbated threats to the region’s ecosystems. 95 percent of Southeast Asian coral reefs are at risk of being destroyed and over 80 ocean species in the region are listed as critically endangered and endangered.
Scientists have warned that, as increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed by our oceans, seawater is becoming more acidic, threatening aquatic ecosystems and organisms.
But tides might actually be turning.
The Paris Climate Agreement has united many nations in the common cause of tackling climate change by limiting global carbon emissions and thereby protecting our oceans.
The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has made it crystal-clear that a commitment to the conservation of oceans is necessary to secure a better future for all, through Sustainable Development Goal 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
One way to protect our vital ocean ecosystems is to increase the number, size and management effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
MPAs are established to preserve not only coastal and marine terrain, water and the genetic diversity of associated flora and fauna, but also historical and cultural heritage.
It is important that the boundaries of MPAs are delineated through multi-stakeholder consultation and consensus, so that encroachment becomes less likely and enforcement becomes more effective. Local communities, which have traditional knowledge of their natural resources, also need to be involved in the governance of their ecosystems to relieve the pressure on both nature and governments.
In Pakistan, Astola Island is shaping up to be the first MPA in the country. At the IUCN World Conservation Congress last September, a motion was adopted to declare the island an MPA. Since then, a situational analysis of the island has been undertaken. The next steps will be to ensure that local communities and other stakeholders at the grassroots level are included in the governance and decision-making processes related to the establishment of the new MPA.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘World Oceans Day: “Our oceans, our future’.