In 2019, a dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench – the deepest dive ever at nearly 11,000 metres down – found four new species of crustaceans and a plastic bag. It was an emblematic discovery. As people learn more about the oceans, the scale of the problems are being understood. The call for marine protected areas, recognised for their effectiveness in restoring marine species, is growing.
Organisers of World Oceans Day (June 8) are promoting a plan to protect 30 per cent of the world’s ocean in secured marine parks, by 2030 – the “30 x 30” campaign.
“We are delighted by the number of global events taking place this year” says Jeff Demain, World Oceans Day manager. “The range of online actions is compelling. Where safe, there are also a number of beach cleanups around the globe.”
Overfishing has decimated fish populations, while also trapping larger creatures such as turtles, whales, sharks and rays as bycatch or even in abandoned nets. “Sharks and rays bring many benefits to the oceans and people, from helping us fight climate change to bringing nutrients necessary for phytoplankton to grow and produce the oxygen we breathe,” says Dr Andy Cornish, who leads WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme. “And yet, up to 100 million are killed each year! Even though sharks and rays have outlived the dinosaurs, they are being driven to the brink because of overfishing, with 30 per cent of all 1,200-plus species currently threatened with extinction.”
Climate change is heating up the world’s oceans, while greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide are acidifying the water, damaging coral reefs which sustain 25 per cent of the world’s fishes and support the livelihoods of millions in Asia.
Dr Jackie Ziegler, University of Victoria
“The ocean is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks,” says Dr Jackie Ziegler, who led a team from the University of Victoria’s Marine Protected Areas Research Group in a recent report on the impact of marine tourism on conservation. “The warming ocean affects not only the survival of vulnerable marine species and critical habitats, but also food security and human health and wellbeing.”
According to the UN, fisheries support more than 200 million people in Asia and the Pacific. Some 80 per cent of international trade is transported by ship, which is heavily concentrated in Asia. And Asian countries are now responsible for much of the world’s marine plastic pollution.
“The world’s oceans are vital for our planet’s health, providing oxygen, water, food, transport and other functions. This World Oceans Day, we encourage everyone to play a more active role in taking care of our oceans, says Dr Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation for WWF Hong Kong. He hopes Hong Kong people will sign WWF Hong Kong’s emergency action plan petition to support a marine protected area with a Dolphin Conservation Management Area for the waters near western and southern Lantau by 2024.
Ocean conservation has become a major topic among yacht owners and builders, who often see damage to ocean ecosystems first-hand.
Giovanna Vitelli, Executive Vice-President, Azimut-Benetti Group
“The ocean is part of my whole life as a human being and as an entrepreneur,” says Giovanna Vitelli, executive vice-president of Azimut-Benetti Group, the world’s most prolific superyacht builders. She describes spending childhood summer holidays on a yacht and experiencing life on the water. She is hopeful that people are becoming aware of the dangers posed by plastic waste and are cutting down on single use plastics, but she feels it is not enough, and that more “specific awareness activities” are needed.
“Last summer, I was astonished by the quantity of plastic in the Mediterranean; hopefully, this will be reduced,” Vitelli says.
This year, Peter Lurssen, owner of the eponymous superyacht builder, donated £2 million to Blue Marine Foundation to help establish a marine reserve around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.
“Those of us who spend a lot of time on the ocean, in boats or as divers, know the extraordinary beauty of an ocean sunset, a coral reef, or spectacular wildlife,” says Dr Laurence McCook. Dr Ziegler says that awareness and public interest in marine conservation has been growing over the past decade, a crucial development. “The ocean is life.”
“Whether its oyster farmers in Hong Kong, women’s collectives in Papua New Guinea, or snapper fisherman in Indonesia, people whose lives depend on a healthy marine environment are stepping forward to lead. We need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to succeed,” said Will McGoldrick, conservation director, Asia-Pacific, The Nature Conservancy.