Oceana - Protecting the World's Oceans
  • Date submitted: 31 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Oceana - Protecting the World's Oceans
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Science (1 hits),

Full Submission

The signatory non-governmental environmental organizations, Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council, representing over 1.8 million members and online activists from around the world would like the 20th United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to address the emerging threat of ocean acidification to marine life, ocean-based resources and the people who are dependent on them. To solve the problem of ocean acidification we encourage aggressive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from the international community, a major initiative to create fully protected marine reserves, and the establishment of an international network of monitoring stations to better understand and adapt to changes in marine life from a more acidic ocean.

Threats from Ocean Acidification

Currently, human activity - through the burning of fossil fuels - is changing the basic chemistry of our seas at an unprecedented rate, making them more acidic.  As atmospheric CO2 has risen, the oceans have become 30% more acidic over the last 150 years (Caldeira and Wickett, 2003).  Scientists predict an increase in acidity by approximately 150% by 2100, if we continue to pollute as we are now (Caldeira and Wickett, 2005; Feely et al., 2004; Orr et al., 2005; Doney et al., 2009). This will have far reaching consequences for life in the seas which could lead to widespread social and environmental costs (Turley and Boot, 2011).

Rising ocean acidity reduces the availability of carbonate, a critical component of shell or skeleton building for animals like clams, oysters, mussels, plankton, and coral (Fabry et al., 2008). As atmospheric CO2 rises, the oceans could become corrosive enough to literally dissolve shells, and potentially threaten populations of these animals. Without significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification could affect marine food webs and lead to substantial changes in aquaculture and fisheries, threatening protein supply and food security for millions of people as well as the multi-billion dollar global fishing industry (Monaco Declaration, 2009) 

By mid-century vast ocean regions may become inhospitable to coral growth and reefs are expected to erode faster than they can grow (Hoegh-Guldberg, 2005).  Regions dependent on healthy coral reefs for fisheries, tourism, and storm protection are at high risk. Ocean acidification will be especially challenging for coastal and small island developing nations that are highly dependent on ocean based protein and resources, which currently lack the capacity to adapt to these changes (Cooley et al., 2011).

Reducing Carbon Dioxide

The important actions taken in the next several decades regarding carbon dioxide emissions will influence the pH and the health of our oceans for thousands to millions of years into the future. The primary solution to worldwide ocean acidification is dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which is also a key strategy in solving climate change. However, many governing bodies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are focused only on mitigating climate change which involves overall reductions in greenhouse gases, potential geo-engineering projects, and a limitation of 2 degrees Celsius increase in global average surface temperature. Even if climate change goals are met, the changes to the oceans? pH could be detrimental to many forms of marine life, ocean-based economies and cultures. The international community must focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions to effectively mitigate ocean acidification.

Establishing Marine Reserves

It is critically important to protect sensitive marine environments from additional stressors that can exacerbate the debilitating impacts of acidification. Establishing fully protected marine reserves can help protect biodiversity and improve the resilience of our oceans in the face of rising acidity. Keys to the long term success of marine reserves involve creating sustainable sources of funding as well as local capacity to enforce their fully protected status.

Creating an International Ocean Acidification Monitoring Network

There is also a pressing need to better understand and monitor the threat that ocean acidification poses to societies worldwide (Feely et al., 2010).  Currently, there are only approximately 30 monitoring stations capable of measuring ocean acidity, and most of these are in developed countries. There is virtually no monitoring of biological impacts of acidification anywhere in the world.  An international network of monitoring is needed to identify areas of vulnerability and develop effective adaptive management strategies for marine resources.  States and coastal communities need information that can help them assess risks, plan for impacts and initiate management strategies, including, for example:

Vulnerability Analyses ? Based on current research and observations, scientists have identified broad geographic regions and marine species that are vulnerable.  High latitudes, regions of upwelling, and coastal estuaries with heavy river input, will experience episodes of corrosive water first.  In addition, certain species such as tropical corals and some oysters and other mollusks are particularly sensitive to changes in carbonate chemistry.  There may be many other marine animals and entire ecosystems that will be affected, and a more comprehensive and refined understanding of vulnerabilities is greatly needed. 

Early warning systems - Real-time information about ocean chemistry can serve as an early warning system for already affected regions and industries.  For example, oyster hatcheries along the west coast of the United States which were suffering from lower pH have deployed monitoring systems to alert their operators to episodes of corrosive waters which are harmful to larval oysters.  With the use of these systems, hatchery owners have restored their production by 80% and have rescued their businesses.

Management guidance ? Ocean acidification is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly changing ocean.  In addition to changes in ocean chemistry, ocean water is getting warmer, oxygen availability is decreasing, and a host of local stressors exacerbate global change.  Enhanced ocean observations are critically needed to improve ocean management in a changing world.


Lisa Suatoni
Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council

Matthew Huelsenbeck
Marine Scientist, Oceana

Oceana is the largest international organization working solely to protect the world?s oceans. Global in scope, Oceana has offices throughout the Americas and in Europe and more than 500,000 supporters around the world. Oceana works to protect and restore the health of the oceans using Science-based campaigns. As part of our efforts to promote sustainable fishing, one of our top priorities is in addressing the considerable subsidies many countries provide to their fishing sectors. Oceana has been a leader in advancing global reform of fishing subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Oceana submits these comments with the belief that Rio+20 is an important opportunity to contribute to achieving healthy economies and sustainable development through the global reform of fishing subsidies.

Oceans and the Green Economy

The heart of the Rio+20 conference is the recognition that the world?s resources are capable of raising millions out of poverty, but only if they are managed intelligently. Central to achieving these objectives is the ?Green Economy.?

Given the significance of the oceans, both to the environment and to the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, a group of Pacific Island nations have introduced the concept of the ?Blue Economy? and correctly recognize that this must be an integral of part of any Green Economy.

The Green Economy theme of this conference recognizes strong economic performance as a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development. In the context of the oceans, this begins with an urgent need for global reform of fishing subsidies.

Sustainable development will only take root and produce the Green and Blue economies that are sought if we create a framework to support it. Individual initiatives will struggle as long as economic incentives continue to encourage destructive practices.

Ten years ago, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (Rio+10) recognized this when it declared that many subsidies to the fishing sector create incentives to overfish and support illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Fulfilling the promise of the Green and Blue economies requires following through on those commitments. Only by doing so can we ensure the ocean will continue to offer its bounty both today and in the future.

The World Depends on the Oceans for Food and Livelihood

Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the globe, provide income and livelihood, and supply people with a key source of protein in their diets. More than a billion people depend on fish as a key source of protein. Fishing activities support coastal communities and hundreds of millions of people who rely on fishing for all or part of their income.

However, oceans are a source of immense but not inexhaustible wealth.

Ten years after the Rio+10 Summit recognized the need to reform fishing subsidies, the world?s fisheries are close to irreversible collapse. Fish populations, as well as other ocean wildlife, have been depleted to a fraction of their historical levels ? and their disappearance can trigger cascading adverse effects throughout the ocean.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded in its 2010 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report that more marine fish populations are now classified as overexploited and depleted than ever before. In fact, 85 percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. More than 90 percent of the ocean?s large predators -- tuna, marlin and sharks -- have disappeared as a result of industrial fishing. The global economic losses due to overfishing are estimated at US$50 billion a year.

Fishing Subsidies are a Major Driver of Global Overfishing

Despite the precarious state of the oceans, many governments continue to provide large subsidies to their fishing fleets. These subsidies allow fleets to fish longer, harder, and farther away than what would otherwise be possible. The scope and magnitude of fisheries subsidies and their impacts on overcapacity and overfishing are so significant that global subsidy reform is likely the single greatest action that can be taken to protect the oceans.

Fishing subsidies are defined as direct or indirect financial transfers of funds from public entities that help make the fishing sector more profitable than it would be otherwise. Fishing subsidies can create incentives to fish more, even when catches are declining. Subsidies can generally be described in three categories: beneficial, ambiguous, and capacity-enhancing. Beneficial subsidies enhance the growth of fish stocks through conservation, monitoring and control of catch rates. Ambiguous subsidies can lead to positive or negative impacts on the fishery resource depending on the design of the program. Finally, capacity-enhancing subsidies stimulate overcapacity and overfishing through artificially increased profits that further stimulate effort and compound resource overexploitation problems. Fuel subsidies, boat construction, and foreign access agreements are all examples of capacity enhancing subsidies.

An estimated US$16 billion in capacity-enhancing subsidies are provided to the global fishing sector each year, representing approximately 20 percent of the value of total world catch. The intensity of these subsidies is even greater than those to agriculture.

Government subsidies have led to pervasive excess capacity in the global fishing fleet, while ongoing government support for fishing ensures that overcapacity is maintained. The global fishing fleet is up to 250 percent larger than what is needed to sustainably fish the oceans. Subsidies enable activity which results in overexploited fish populations, undermine fishing control programs, and prevent depleted fish populations from recovering.

Fishing Subsidies Lead to Unsustainable Economic and Environmental Practices

Fisheries subsidies are not only environmentally destructive, but also preserve uneconomic and inefficient practices. Large-scale, distant water fleets are often highly subsidized for their operations. A recent study found that bottom trawling on the high seas would not be profitable without high levels of government subsidies. This fishing practice is destructive enough that the United Nations has called for it to be severely restricted.

Fishing subsidies have also been shown to support illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing represents a major loss of revenue, estimated between 11 and 26 million tonnes per year, worth between US$10 and US$23 billion. This is a particular concern for some of the poorest countries in the world which depend on fisheries for food, livelihood and revenue.

The damage to ocean resources and biodiversity from overfishing will likely have implications that we cannot fully anticipate. However, one immediate danger is the impact that overfishing could have on food security. The FAO states: The maximum long-tern potential of the oceans has been reached. As a result, increased demand for wild-capture fish cannot be met by increasing fishing effort without restoring fish populations and ensuring their ongoing sustainability. Sustainable fishing can only be achieved through compliance with effective fisheries management programs, by controlling illegal fishing and by limiting subsidies.

Beyond mere economic losses, losses to food production and the inequality of funneling ocean resources away from the least and lesser developed countries to their more industrialized neighbors present enormous difficulties. Healthy fisheries could produce even more, both financially and in food for the world?s people.

The Rio+20 Conference has a Critical Role in Addressing Fishing Subsidies

An international framework to manage fishing subsidies is an essential step towards a sustainable economies and natural resources. The Rio+20 conference has a role and opportunity to support and advance these global objectives. Specifically, the Rio+20 conference should:

1. Reaffirm and strengthen the commitment of the Rio+10 conference and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation calling for global fishing subsidy reform.

2. Build on the commitment of the Rio+10 agreement to restore stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield by 2015, by taking actions to control and reduce global fishing subsidies.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.
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