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Action Urged on Oceans

February 24, 2012

  • Oceans cover 71% of the planet and are essential for providing food, jobs, livelihoods, and protection for hundreds of millions of people.
  • The Global Partnership for Oceans is an alliance of governments, international groups, civil society groups and private interests.
  • Many small island developing states have called for Rio+20 to support sustainable ocean development.

February 24, 2012 - The World Bank issued an SOS Friday on the state of the world's oceans and announced the formation of a powerful coalition to confront the ocean's growing number of overexploited fisheries, more than 400 "dead zones" where most marine life cannot survive, and the loss of important ecosystems to coastal development.

In a speech – "A New S-O-S: Save Our Seas"-- at the World Oceans Summit in Singapore, World Bank President Robert Zoellick  said the new Global Partnership for Oceans  would tap the experience and knowledge of multiple organizations, and leverage financing, projects, and programs in developing countries to better manage the ocean and its resources.

"The world's oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization," said Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, one of the new coalition's partners.

"We need coordinated global action to restore our oceans to health. Together we'll build on the excellent work already being done to address the threats to oceans, identify workable solutions, and scale them up."

Zoellick said the partnership's goals would likely include: rebuilding at least half of the world's threatened fish stocks, more than doubling marine protected areas from 2% of the ocean's surface to at least 5%, increasing sustainable aquaculture to provide two-thirds of the world's fish (aquaculture today provides about 50% of seafood consumed by humans), and properly valuing ocean and coastal resources to enable better decision-making.

The Oceans Partnership--– an alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society groups and private interests--is forming ahead of Rio+20 (June 20-22), a high-level meeting that will mark the 20th anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (the Rio Earth Summit). Many small island developing states have called for Rio+20 to support sustainable ocean development, and protection of marine resources and oceans is expected to figure prominently at the conference, according to the UNCSD Secretariat. The Global Partnership for Oceans will assist with opening new dialogue on the issue and supporting countries' efforts to meet commitments for improved ocean management.

Despite several international agreements, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the world has not been able to reverse the loss of fish stocks and marine biodiversity in the last 20 years. An estimated $50 billion a year in potential returns is lost because of poor management of the oceans, according to Sunken Billions, a report by the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

At the same time, oceans are essential for providing food, jobs, livelihoods, and protection for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Fish is developing countries' single most traded food product, with the trade valued at $25 billion a year, and for many Pacific Island countries, fish make up 80 percent of total exports.

"The oceans are hugely important to tackling poverty, ensuring food security, and protecting biodiversity," said Juergen Voegele, director of the World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development department.

 "Globally, fish provides more than 3 billion people with 15 percent of the protein they eat, and some 240 million jobs are supported by marine fisheries. A partnership like this is imperative for managing such a complex – and truly global - public good."

All the organizations, countries and agencies supporting the Partnership, including the World Bank, are already involved in activities to protect the world's oceans, such as improved governance systems around fishing, creating marine protected areas, efforts to attack the sources of ocean pollution and degradation, and aiding the development of sustainable aquaculture to boost food security.

"Almost all the challenges facing ocean sustainability stem from governance and market failures," said Andrew Hudson, Head, UNDP Water & Ocean Governance Programme, one of the international agencies supporting the new Partnership.

"Our experience has been that supporting ocean governance reform at all levels creates an enabling environment that can in turn catalyze sizeable quantities of public and private sector finance to sustain ocean ecosystem services. The Global Partnership for Oceans provides a key means of implementation to scale up proven approaches."

Adds Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare Conservation, another supporter of the Partnership: "There are many viable solutions to much of what plagues the world's oceans. The World Bank's leadership of this new, global partnership creates a new opportunity to catalogue what's working and promote customized replication all over the world."

Current support for the Global Partnership for Oceans includes  a number of developed and developing countries as well as country groupings – including island nations; non-government organizations and advocacy bodies like Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, Rare and World Wildlife Fund (WWF); industry groups like National Fisheries Institute, and the World Ocean Council whose members rely on sustainable seafood supplies or are dependent on ocean resources; international organizations including The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The Global Environment Facility, Global Ocean Forum, GRID Arendal (Norway), the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment and the World Bank Group.