How the seas can give us cause for hope this World Ocean Day.
As the world sat down to watch the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy a barrage of resolutions exclaiming “I’m never eating fish again” exploded from the depths of couches. Whilst receiving criticisms for some misrepresentation of information, there are a lot of snapshots to wrap your head around, the film does effectively raise an urgent consciousness around the environmental impact of fishing.
With World Ocean Day upon us, how much is really known about the mass of water that covers 70% of our planet, of which only 19% has been mapped? The answer: not enough. In fact, scientists inform us that we know more about Mars than we do about our oceans. Aware sat down with Martha Selwyn, Sustainable Ocean Business Manager at the United Nations, to learn what action both the consumer and international bodies can take this World Ocean Day:
“We are excited to see the growing momentum around ocean-climate action and finally the increasing recognition for the critical role the ocean plays in mitigating climate change and supporting livelihoods. With COP 26 around the corner, World Ocean Day is a huge opportunity to ensure the ocean isn’t forgotten about”
– Martha Selwyn, United Nations
What’s Polluting Our Oceans?
Unlike what is presented in Seaspiracy, the waste which comes to line the ocean bed and floats in swathes on its surface comes predominantly from land. In fact, “80% of all marine debris” (UN) finds its way to our seas from dry land, with the UN predicting that the amount of plastic in the ocean is forecast to quadruple by 2040 (UN). Next to waste from the fishing industry, currently 8 million tons of plastic land in the ocean every year, with other large contributors such as harmful agricultural fertilisers streaming into our the seas by the second. Despite these daunting statistics, the invention of increasingly durable materials and incentivising businesses to move towards a more circular plastic economy could dramatically reduce the influx of plastic in our seas.
Whilst we see the consequences of overfishing, the images of the Japanese tuna market is enough to think twice about ordering sushi, stopping eating fish all together might not be the only answer to the problem. Compared to land-based protein, ocean-based protein has a far lower carbon footprint. With the global population only set to expand, considering ocean-based protein alternatives is an important factor for policymakers.
As “rates of fish consumption have increased twice as rapidly as population growth” (UN), it is true we have seen an influx of “illegal, undocumented and unreported (IUU) fishing” (UN). However, the introduction of fully traceable seafood would help to counter this whilst simultaneously greatly benefitting smaller fishing communities.
This is particularly relevant for small island developing states where 90% of small scale fisheries are run by women. But how do we even begin to monitor who is catching what in a mass of borderless water? The UN is advocating for traceable seafood, a global regulation that “All seafood traded internationally in 2030 should be required by law to be accompanied by standardised traceability data that consumers can trust” (UN).
Seaweed and nature-based solutions
As “a pillar of global food security with a critical role to play in supplying a growing global population with sustainable protein” (UN) there is more than just fish to be pulled from the ocean. Researchers have found that seaweed “offers enormous potential as a source of feed, fuel and fertilizer” (UN) and eating aquatic plants should be considered an essential part of the “aquaculture industry to support food security and combat climate change” (UN). According to a Havard study, “macroalgae play a large role reducing the effects of global warming” (Havard). For example, Kelp, which are large brown algae seaweeds, “has an incredibly fast growth rate (up to two feet per day) and exports a large portion of its biomass out into the deep sea, allowing kelp to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere”(Havard).
Ocean Renewable Energy
Offshore wind farms have long been controversial for the communities and the lives of the fishermen it disrupts, but the benefits are staggering. According to the Danish energy company Orsted, who are currently building the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the British coast, one rotation of the turbines can power an average-sized home for an entire day. (CNN) It’s not just the turbine that could be beneficial, according to the wildlife photographer and offshore wind expert James Monnington, “when you build a pole for the turbine, the bottom is surrounded with rock. I have been looking at lobster populations surrounding these rocks that you wouldn’t usually find there. That would create work opportunities for fisherman that have had their trawling compromised by the construction of the wind farm” (SardinTalks). Should the building of these farms continue to be successful, the UN predicts that “offshore wind could become the number one source of power generation in Europe by 2042” (UN).
The shipping sector transports 80% of the volume of world trade (UN), but with it contributing to an estimated 3% of global warming the decarbonisation of the shipping industry could greatly benefit both our oceans and the landmasses. In order to implement international regulations to control shipping emissions, the UN suggests the development of “key incentives to scale-up the decarbonisation of shipping and take-up of low-zero carbon fuels” (UN).
Until now, the ocean had been used as a playground for the worlds increasing needs, but this superficially dormant mass has the properties to lift the world from climate disaster and through innovation, an increase in consumer consciousness and the cooperation of the international community, we could be riding a powerful wave for World Ocean Days to come.
By Eliza Edwards