Natural coastal habitats that provide vital benefits to coastal communities, for example through storm protection or as the engine of tourism, are being lost. An estimated 35 percent of mangrove forests have been lost or converted in the last few decades. And around 20 percent of coral reefs have been destroyed, with another 20 percent or more being degraded.
Land-based sources of pollution are bringing further damage to the oceans, leading to at least 405 low-oxygen ocean dead zones around the world, where few life forms survive. Climate change is also threatening coastal communities through rising sea levels and worsening storms while also increasing acidification of the oceans that threatens marine life at the base of the food chain.
“Decades of free-for-all exploitation along with pollution, climate change, and the dramatic degradation of coastal and marine habitats have put oceans and the economies they sustain on the brink of collapse,” World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte told the first group.
We can’t afford to wait another 10 years, said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick, who announced the formation of the proposed partnership in February.
“On the sidelines of the meeting, Roger Bing - Vice President of Purchasing for Darden Restaurants - said the GPO’s inclusive approach, with private sector, government and other actors’ involvement from the start is a critical element to success. “We’re here because we wanted a seat at the table to influence how this program is going to be put together,” he said. “From our perspective, we want to ensure the sustainability of the oceans. It’s important to us from a corporate social sustainability perspective as well as from a business perspective.”
For the Micronesian Ambassador to the U.S., Asterio Takesy, who also attended the meeting, protecting the oceans is really about protecting his region’s existence.
“All of the Micronesian islands are surrounded by oceans,” he said. “Our life, our economies, the future depends on the health of the ocean.”
As a group with powerful participants and with access to policy-makers around the world, the partnership could keep oceans high on the political agenda, said Lynne Hale, director of the Global Marine Initiative at The Nature Conservancy.
By bringing together representatives of the leading stakeholders on ocean issues, the GPO is aiming to pool knowledge and resources and create a unified voice to put oceans on the agenda worldwide and provide countries with good economic reasons for improved management of their marine resources.
The meeting drew representatives from more than 70 organizations. Central to discussions at the meeting were the partnership’s goals and targets. Among those being discussed:
Fisheries: To enhance food security, ensure that economically rational rebuilding strategies are in place for at least half the world’s fish stocks currently identified as overfished. We'll also aim to increase the annual net benefits of fisheries.
Aquaculture: Support using the best available practices so two-thirds of the global fish supply comes from sustainable aquaculture.
Habitat: Work to more than double the coverage of marine protected areas to 5%.
Pollution: Work to reverse the trend of increasing sewage, nutrients and marine litter in targeted oceanscapes and identify cost-effective ways to reduce heavy metals in sediment.
The initial approach looks at combining knowledge and resources to support a package of investments in a number of large ocean areas around the world. This integrated package of investments would include support for: fisheries, including rights-based management that empowers people with a secure long-term stake in their fisheries’ health; conservation of coastal habitats in conjunction with improved fisheries management; reduction of pollution going into the oceans; and support for sustainable aquaculture.
Fabien Cousteau said the meeting was vital to building a new “community.”
“It’s extraordinarily important to be part of a community – whether you’re from a business world, a governmental world or an NGO world so we can take our perspectives and our strengths towards a common goal which is a healthy ocean and a healthy economy,” he said.
For John Tanzer, global marine director for the World Wildlife Fund, the move to solve the problems besetting the world’s oceans was “an idea whose time had come.”
“There’s a level of interest and intent that’s unprecedented to try to deal with the problems,” Tanzer said. “The sum of the parts is potentially much more powerful than being alone. We’re all doing good work …. but the realization is there, it’s real, that we need to come together. The problems are bigger than what any organization or group of organizations can do on its own. We need a global partnership.”