UN head declares ‘ocean emergency’ as global leaders gather in Lisbon

SOURCE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/27/un-head-antonio-guterres-declares-ocean-emergency-as-global-leaders-gather-in-lisbon

The UN secretary general has declared that the world is in the middle of an “ocean emergency”, and urged governments to do more to restore ocean health.

Speaking at the opening of the UN ocean conference in Lisbon, Portugal, attended by global leaders and heads of state from 20 countries, António Guterres said: “Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency. We must turn the tide.”


Guterres said the “egoism” of some nations was hampering efforts to agree a long-awaited treaty to protect the world’s oceans.

In March, UN member states were criticised by scientists and environmentalists for failing to agree on a blueprint for protecting the high seas against exploitation. Of the 64% of the high seas that lie beyond territorial limits, only 1.2% is currently protected.

Sea level rise, ocean heating, ocean acidification and greenhouse gas concentrations all reached record levels last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s state of the global climate report in 2021.

Low-level nations and coastal cities face flooding, while pollution is creating vast coastal dead zones and overfishing is “crippling fish stocks”, Guterres said.

Marine pollution is increasing and marine species declining, including sharks and rays, whose populations have crashed by more than 70% over the past 50 years.

Nearly 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the sea without treatment, while at least 8m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year. “Without drastic action, the plastic could outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050,” Guterres warned.

“We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean,” he said in his opening remarks.

Guterres, who is from Lisbon, was applauded as he began his speech in his native Portuguese, quoting one of the countries best-known poets, Fernando Pessoa: “God wanted the Earth to be all one. That the sea unites, no longer separates.”

The secretary general referred to the positive news since the last UN Ocean conference in 2017, including progress on a legally binding instrument to conserve and protect biodiversity in waters beyond national jurisdiction – part of the draft UN high seas treaty – and last week’s World Trade Organization agreement to curb harmful fishing subsidies.

But he issued a call to governments to raise their ambitions on global health. “Much more needs to be done by all of us together,” he said, including more funding for scienctific innovation. “A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future,” Guterres said.

The theme of the conference is the critical need for scientific knowledge and marine technology to build ocean resilience. Guterres called for a “goal of mapping 80% of the seabed by 2030”.

He made several recommendations, including sustainable management that could help the ocean produce six times as much food and generate 40 times as much renewable energy as it does currently, and protecting the oceans and people in coastal areas from the impacts of the climate crisis.

More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for food security, while 120 million work directly in fisheries and aquaculture-related activities, the majority in small-island developing states and least developed countries. Yet SDG (sustainable development goal) 14 (to conserve and sustainably use the ocean seas and marine environment for sustainable development) is the least funded of all the SDGs, Guterres said.

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, a co-president of the UN oceans conference, told delegates that “oceans are the most under-appreciated resource on our planet” and human activity had placed them under “great stress”.

“Poor management has reduced the ocean’s natural ability to restore itself,” he said. “I find it surprising that we should put such a critical resource at risk.”

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, president of Portugal and co-chair of the conference, said that war and the pandemic must not be used as an excuse for inaction. “Oceans are central in geopolitical balance of power,” he said. “We must recover the time we have lost and give hope a chance, once again, before it is too late.”

The draft declaration of the conference acknowledges the world’s collective failure to achieve SDG14 and commits to reversing the health of the ocean, but it does not elaborate on how this will be achieved. It also makes reference to the need for financing for developing countries to help implement Marine Protected Areas.

The final draft of the political declaration is expected to be adopted at the end of the conference. Negotiations between nations on the key instrument to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 – the global ocean treaty – are expected to take place in New York in August.


An ocean of noise: how sonic pollution is hurting marine life

Today’s oceans are a tumult of engine roar, artificial sonar and seismic blasts that make it impossible for marine creatures to hunt or communicate. We could make it stop, so why don’t we?

Today, ocean waters are a tumult of engine noise, sonar and seismic blasts. Sediments from human activities on land cloud the water. Industrial chemicals befuddle the sense of smell of aquatic animals. We are severing the sensory links that gave the world its animal diversity. Whales cannot hear the echolocating pulses that locate their prey, breeding fish cannot find one another amid the noise and turbidity, and the social connections among crustaceans are weakened as their chemical messages and sonic thrums are lost in a haze of human pollution.


Here off the coast of San Juan Island, the whales’ voices were like fine silk stitched into a thick denim of propeller and motor sound, clicks and whistles sometimes audible but often disappearing into the tight weave of engines. The dozen boats gave off throbs, whirs and shudders as they tracked the whales, combustion engines swaddling the whales in an inescapable, constricting wrap.

Read More here .

Webinar Report: Reactivation of the Ocean Data and Information Network for Africa


There is a growing need for a wide range of ocean data and information in Africa - covering physical, biological, meteorological, geological, and chemical aspects of coastal and marine science. The Global Ocean Science Report, 2020 indicated that although the countries in the region surveyed regularly and collect some amount of the various data types, none has the capacity to generate adequate data for optimal management of its coastal and marine environments. Moreover, in most the countries, data collection is regularly, duplicated and existing datasets not shared, or other relevant sectors and agencies may not be aware of their existence. There is therefore need share data across countries to help mitigate the paucity of data and information.

Multiple reports and consortia have articulated the need for improved access to data and information, to facilitate better understanding and management of the marine environment in the region. More recently, in the regional decade consultations held in January 2021 in Nairobi, data was a key issue in the discussions. Specifically, five issues were raised:

  1. Need for an improved focus on user driven data;
  2. Challenges in data sharing related to a lack of common platforms, or incompatible metadata and data formats
  3. Lack of standardized policies in relation to open access data;
  4. Technical capacity and resource limitations; and
  5. Lack of trust between organizations to share data.

 Download the full report here:

Global Warming Drove a Deadly Burst of Indian Ocean Tropical Storms

Global warming supercharged one of the most destructive tropical storm seasons on record in the South Indian Ocean, an international science team said on Monday.

In a new study, the researchers focused on deadly rain and flooding from five storms that raked Madagascar and southeastern Africa in quick succession during February and March 2022.

The research by World Weather Attribution showed that human-caused global warming intensified the rain from the tropical systems, and makes such damaging storms in the vulnerable region more likely. The storms killed at least 310 people, destroyed more than 45,000 homes and displaced about half a million people. 

The 2021-2022 season in the South Indian Ocean (Nov. 15, 2021 to April 30, 2022), especially February, was “one of the most active on record by most metrics,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s global tropical storm database. 

Read More here .

The African Conference on Priority Setting & Partnership Development for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development


The African Conference on Priority Setting & Partnership Development for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development was a huge success!

The Launching of the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap which sets out nine priority areas for the Decade in the Region catalyzes partnerships in the co-design and co-development of Decade programmes and projects.



Watch a media feature for the Conference here: https://youtu.be/KOIlKJJkxOQ


Turbulence from spawning fish keeps a healthy circulation in coastal waters

A new study has shown how fish influence ocean ecosystems in coastal regions, revealing for the first time how they circulate nutrients and oxygen around the waters when they spawn. This process is key to keeping the ecosystems running.

Oceans are made up of multiple layers, ranging from lighter, warmer waters at the top to denser, cooler waters at the bottom. Ocean mixing is vital to move heat, oxygen, nutrients and pollutants between different layers and therefore plays a major role in how ecosystems sustain life.

Although it is well established that winds and tides supply the bulk of the energy that drives mixing, the contribution made by swimming organisms has not been understood -- until now.

In this new study, a team led by the University of Southampton spent fifteen days monitoring water turbulence in the Ría de Pontevedra, a bay in the north-west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The researchers used an instrument called microstructure profiler, which measures variations in the ocean current speed and temperature over very small distances.

The results, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, showed that increased levels of turbulence and mixing occurred every night, similar to turbulence caused by a major storm, despite the weather staying calm throughout the study.

Read More here .