The Chickahominy Report

News about Earth, Atmosphere, Water, and Life

It’s Official: Today is World Oceans Day

Sunrise over Cape Lookout, N.C. (Copyright © 2009 David M. Lawrence)

Sun­rise over Cape Look­out, N.C. (Copy­right © 2009 David M. Lawrence)

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — Today, June 8, 2009, is the first offi­cial World Oceans Day.

Cana­da pro­posed hold­ing a World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Sum­mit in Rio de Janeiro. The Unit­ed Nations dithered ini­tial­ly, but the Cana­di­an idea inspired many to unof­fi­cial­ly cel­e­brate the day since. Per­sis­tent sup­port­ers even­tu­al­ly forced the UN to take notice. In its 63rd ses­sion last year, the Gen­er­al Assem­bly includ­ed a small para­graph in its res­o­lu­tion 63/111 on “Oceans and the law of the sea” offi­cial­ly sanc­tion­ing the day’s obser­vance.

Why is such a day need­ed? There are many rea­sons. The oceans cov­er near­ly two-thirds of the Earth’s sur­face. Marine organ­isms gen­er­ate most of the oxy­gen those of use who are land­locked need to sur­vive. Ocean waters absorb sig­nif­i­cant amounts of car­bon diox­ide — such as that we emit by the com­bus­tion of fos­sil fuels — thus reduc­ing or at least slow­ing the effects of anthro­pogenic (human-caused) cli­mate change. Ocean cur­rents play a vital role in con­trol­ling the Earth’s over­all tem­per­a­ture by trans­port­ing excess solar heat from the trop­ics to the poles. They are a vital source of food — espe­cial­ly in many impov­er­ished trop­i­cal and island nations — and com­pounds that are crit­i­cal com­po­nents of cur­rent and poten­tial drugs as well as of prod­ucts seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed to oceans such as Jell-o.

UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon offered the fol­low­ing mes­sage (in ital­ics) for today’s obser­vance of World Oceans Day.

The first obser­vance of World Oceans Day allows us to high­light the many ways in which oceans con­tribute to soci­ety. It is also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize the con­sid­er­able chal­lenges we face in main­tain­ing their capac­i­ty to reg­u­late the glob­al cli­mate, sup­ply essen­tial ecosys­tem ser­vices and pro­vide sus­tain­able liveli­hoods and safe recre­ation.

Indeed, human activ­i­ties are tak­ing a ter­ri­ble toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vul­ner­a­ble marine ecosys­tems, such as corals, and impor­tant fish­eries are being dam­aged by over-exploita­tion, ille­gal, unre­port­ed and unreg­u­lat­ed fish­ing, destruc­tive fish­ing prac­tices, inva­sive alien species and marine pol­lu­tion, espe­cial­ly from land-based sources. Increased sea tem­per­a­tures, sea-lev­el rise and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion caused by cli­mate change pose a fur­ther threat to marine life, coastal and island com­mu­ni­ties and nation­al economies.

Oceans are also affect­ed by crim­i­nal activ­i­ty. Pira­cy and armed rob­bery against ships threat­en the lives of sea­far­ers and the safe­ty of inter­na­tion­al ship­ping, which trans­ports 90 per cent of the world’s goods. Smug­gling of ille­gal drugs and the traf­fick­ing of per­sons by sea are fur­ther exam­ples of how crim­i­nal activ­i­ties threat­en lives and the peace and secu­ri­ty of the oceans.

Sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al instru­ments drawn up under the aus­pices of the Unit­ed Nations address these numer­ous chal­lenges. At their cen­tre lies the 1982 Unit­ed Nations Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea. It pro­vides the legal frame­work with­in which all activ­i­ties in the oceans and seas must be car­ried out, and is the basis for inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion at all lev­els. In addi­tion to aim­ing at uni­ver­sal par­tic­i­pa­tion, the world must do more to imple­ment this Con­ven­tion and to uphold the rule of law on the seas and oceans.

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our respon­si­bil­i­ty”, empha­sizes our indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive duty to pro­tect the marine envi­ron­ment and care­ful­ly man­age its resources. Safe, healthy and pro­duc­tive seas and oceans are inte­gral to human well-being, eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.

We face daunt­ing chal­lenges in try­ing to man­age and restore our marine ecosys­tems, but we like­wise face dire con­se­quences if we fail to rise to those chal­lenges. The evi­dence — from the col­laps­ing ecosys­tem of the Chesa­peake Bay, from the degra­da­tion and ero­sion of our Atlantic coast­line, from the idle fish­ing fleets — is pret­ty clear. Deci­sive action is need­ed to undo the dam­age we have done.

I hope that “Our oceans, our respon­si­bil­i­ty” turns out to be more than idle words uttered in the heat of mar­ket­ing.

— David M. Lawrence

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