World Group Proposes Plan to "Defy Ocean's End"

National Geographic News
June 3, 2003

Environmental organizations working with scientists, the business community, and governments, have proposed an "achievable agenda" to reverse the decline in health of the world's ocean.

The plan was announced today at the conclusion of a five-day Defying Ocean's End (DOE) conference in Los Cabos, Mexico. It offers these preliminary recommendations:

• Promote a World Ocean Public Trust: Sixty percent of the world's ocean falls in international waters, outside any country's jurisdiction. International waters, largely open to uncontrolled exploitation, must be proactively managed. This marks a major reversal in thinking in ocean policy, since the ocean has for centuries been available for open access and exploitation.

• Expand the Global System of Marine Parks: A vital component of ocean management includes formal protection for critical areas to restore and maintain ocean health. Less than one percent of the world's ocean currently enjoys full protection. Seamounts, or mountains that rise from the ocean floor, are areas that offer refuge for a high percentage of marine life. They are of particular concern, since they primarily fall in unregulated international waters.

• Assess Global Priorities: The conservation status of countless marine species and the health of many marine systems is unknown. A massive effort, to begin immediately, is required to even more accurately assess conservation priorities in the ocean, particularly those marine species most vulnerable to extinction.

• Create an Ocean Ethic: An urgent global communication and education campaign is needed to shatter myths about the ocean's limitless ability to withstand human neglect and abuse.

"The health of humankind is directly related to the health of the ocean—and the ocean and the marine life that calls it home is in real trouble," said Sylvia Earle, executive director of Conservation International's Global Marine Program and DOE co-convener. "We couldn't afford yet another meeting where we just sat around and created a wish list, so we formed Defying Ocean's End to take unprecedented and bold steps forward," said Earle, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

To ensure the agenda from Defying Ocean's End becomes reality, an anonymous donor today provided Conservation International, the coordinating organization of the DOE conference, a U.S. $5 million, five-year grant. The grant requires $4 million in matching funds, to bring the total to $9 million of funding, Conservation International said in a statement. "The world's ocean and the marine life it harbors are collapsing," CI's statement said. "A major study in Nature last month reported that 90 percent of large, predatory fish populations, including tuna and marlin, have disappeared, mostly due to over-fishing and destructive fishing methods. Other threats, such as coastal development, pollution, and climate change, are also devastating marine life.

"It's stunning to consider that in the past few decades, we have done away with the vast majority of large fish in the ocean and significantly altered the way marine systems operate," said Intel founder Gordon Moore, who convened the conference with Earle. "By using sound science and implementing an achievable action plan, we still have a small window of opportunity to reverse these trends." Tomorrow the Pew Oceans Commission will release its report, offering specific recommendations for the United States. Commission member Julie Packard presented the results to the DOE participants earlier today, who overwhelmingly supported the recommendations. Many top international priorities identified by DOE participants reinforce the recommendations issued by Pew.

"The world's ocean is the last living frontier on Earth. Its diversity and productivity exceed that of any on land, but has barely been explored," said Graeme Kelleher, DOE conference chairperson. "We have an opportunity and obligation now to protect the ocean for the future welfare of humans, other animals, and marine plants. This conference was a major step toward defying ocean's end. Prevention now is better than scrambling for a cure later."

Environmental groups that took part in the Defying Ocean's End conference included Conservation International, Environmental Defense, International Seakeepers Society, IUCN-World Conservation Union, Natural Resource Defense Council, Ocean Futures Society, Seaweb, The Nature Conservancy, The Ocean Conservancy, WildAid, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund. Other participants included representatives from government, industry, and academicians from 20 countries.

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