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Photo: Andrea Borgarello / World Bank - TerrAfrica

A healthy ocean provides jobs and food, sustains economic growth, regulates the climate, and supports the well-being of coastal communities.

Billions of people worldwide —especially the world’s poorest— rely on a healthy ocean as a source of jobs and food, underscoring the urgent need to sustainably use, manage and protect this natural resource.

Yet the ocean is going through a triple environmental crisis: (1) the impact of climate change on the ocean; (2) biodiversity losses; and (3) pollution, in particular plastic pollution. This is not just degrading the ocean but endangering the safety, livelihoods, and food security of people, especially coastal communities.

The ocean is the largest carbon sink, absorbing greenhouse gases and significantly mitigating the impacts of climate change – yet the ocean is threatened by rising temperatures, acidification, and sea level rise. “Blue carbon” such as mangroves tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. They also protect coastal communities from floods and storms. Properly valuing the role played by mangroves and seagrass beds – can achieve the triple win of: adaptation and resilience to sea level rise and erosion, addressing the climate crisis by storing carbon and reducing ocean acidification; and ensuring coastal communities are safer and more prosperous.

The FAO estimates that around 58.5 million people are employed worldwide in primary fish production alone – of which approximately 21 percent are women. Including subsistence and secondary-sector workers, and their dependents, it is estimated that about 600 million livelihoods depend at least partially on fisheries and aquaculture.  Most are in developing countries, and are small-scale artisanal fishers and fish farmers. In 2019 aquatic foods provided about 3.3 billion people with at least 20 percent of their average intake of animal protein, with an even higher proportion in many poor countries, (FAO 2022). And yet, while ocean resources boost growth and wealth, they have been brought to the brink from anthropogenic impacts. The FAO estimates that, worldwide, the percentage of fishery stocks not within biologically sustainable levels rose from 10 percent in 1974 to 35.4 percent in 2019.

Globally, fish stocks are significantly affected by illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, though the exact magnitude of the matter is difficult to assess accurately. According to the World Bank study The Sunken Billions Revisited, fishing less would result in a 40% increase in global landed value, while also reducing the costs by more than 40%. The study further shows that a sustainable equilibrium for global marine fisheries, at which point the maximum net benefits could be achieved, would require a reduction of the global fishing effort by 44%. Improved fisheries management, investment in sustainable aquaculture and protection of key habitats could help restore the productivity of the ocean and generate benefits worth billions of dollars in developing countries, while ensuring future growth, food security and jobs for coastal communities.

The ocean is threatened by marine pollution from multiple sources, mostly land-based but also from activities at sea. Plastics are one of the most visible parts of this pollution; and microplastics have been found around the world, in the food chain, air, ocean, rainwater, and ice in the Arctic. Plastic pollution hurts economies, ecosystems, food security, and evidence is rising on potential impacts on human health, including presence of microplastics in our blood. Without proper actions along the value chain, the total cost to governments of managing plastic waste between 2021 and 2040 will by some estimates reach US$670 billion, and the cost of inaction can be particularly high for businesses (estimated at US$100 billion annual financial risk, by 2040). Addressing plastic pollution requires a combination of solutions that are complex, multi-sectoral, and country specific. It requires putting a stop to leakages by improving solid waste management, building a more circular economy for public and private sector (including designing out waste and pollution, developing alternatives to single-use plastics or redesigning them to make them more recyclable, promoting the development of new industry sectors such as reuse/remanufacture, and developing more financially sustainable recycling markets), and restoring ecosystems through clean-up.

The maritime economy is vast. Marine shipping accounts for trillions of dollars in trade. Ocean tourism is also valued in the trillions. Offshore energy, such as oil, gas, and wind, also make up the maritime economy.

Looking the linkages between climate, biodiversity, and development across oceanic sectors must be considered. What is needed is a sustainable and integrated development approach of the different economic sectors for a healthy ocean, not business-as-usual siloed approach.

Coastal communities, particularly in small island developing states, are heavily reliant on marine resources for their livelihoods and food security. Engaging these communities in conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural habitats can provide much-needed income in the short term, while building socio-economic resilience in the long-term.


Last Updated: Apr 03, 2024