With Ocean Health Declining, Biodiversity Convention Must Respond

Countries should aim to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030

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With Ocean Health Declining, Biodiversity Convention Must Respond
Ocean health
Sponges and octocorals live in both shallow and deep water throughout the world’s oceans and form unique and fragile ecosystems.
Courtesy of Don Liberatore

A study published in January in the journal Science found that the oceans are heating up faster than predicted, resulting in rising sea levels, acidification and deoxygenation that are destroying coral reefs and have the potential to bring forth more extreme weather events.

At the same time, marine life from whales to plankton is exhibiting negative impacts from the noise generated by increased human activities at sea such as shipping and offshore energy exploration.

Our ocean is vital to the health of the planet and all species that inhabit it. The seas produce 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, regulate the weather and provide food, livelihoods and recreation for billions of people. And yet the human response to the decline of the ocean has not nearly matched our reliance on this incredible ecosystem.

Fortunately, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) launched a two-year process in November to increase protection for nature and reach an agreement on how the global community can work together over the next decade to address the decline of critical species and the habitats they depend on.

This effort will build upon international commitments, known collectively as the Aichi biodiversity targets, under which CBD Parties agreed to protect and conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Although there has been progress toward this goal, our ocean is facing critical threats, including climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution. To address these issues, government leaders should commit to protecting at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030, the level that many scientists say is needed to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems.

Over the next two years, as CBD members develop their conservation priorities for the next decade, they must recognize the urgency of the threats facing our ocean and the need for action. The next CBD Conference of the Parties meeting in 2020 in China will be a key milestone, when global leaders will take stock of conservation efforts to date and agree to what will hopefully be an ambitious new pathway to safeguard nature by 2050.

What is the CBD?

The CBD is an international treaty ratified by 196 countries to pursue the conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.

Liz Karan directs Pew’s work to protect ocean life on the high seas.

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