United Nations, United Ocean?

Posted by Kimball Livingston February 10, 2015

Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, diver, explorer and warrior on behalf of oceans stewardship, was chief scientist at NOAA until she figured out that the job came with a muzzle. Today she lends herself to many causes and runs Mission Blue, a nonprofit initiative aiming to ignite support for a global network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots, she calls them – large enough “to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.”

Dr. Earle is also a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. We each contributed to this project . . .

More recently, Dr. Earle addressed the United Nations, urging legal protection for the high seas. This was her message :

The United Nations came into existence in 1945. I personally came into existence ten years earlier, and as a child was barely aware of the historic actions then being addressed by my species. The ten year olds of today are more likely to be tuned in to the significance of the actions being deliberated here. They – and we – are armed with access to unprecedented knowledge, information that did not exist when I was a child.

Dr. Sylvia Earle sitting on a SubmersibleIn less than half a century, we have come to understand what our predecessors could not: the living ocean – the living ocean – drives climate and weather, generates most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, takes up much of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, holds 97% of Earth’s water and embraces 97% of the biosphere. Now we know. Humankind is altering the nature of the ocean and therefore, the nature of nature, through what we are putting in and through what we are taking out of the sea. The ocean is large and resilient, but it is not too big to fail. What we are taking out of the sea, what we are putting into the sea are actions that are undermining the most important thing the ocean delivers to humankind – our very existence.

The new reports this week in Science, NY Times, and the Economist are among many examples of the evidence concerning the drastic reduction in the quantity and diversity of marine systems in recent decades, and raise real concerns about the consequences to humankind of these impacts. There is a direct link between the state of life in the ocean and a planet that works in our favor. All of humankind relies on the ocean for everything we care about – prosperity, health, security – our very existence. No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us. An ocean in trouble means civilization in trouble. The highest priority for humankind is to keep the world safe for our children. To do so means taking care of the natural ocean systems that make life possible.

The status quo is not adequate and is not acceptable. It is high time for the High Seas, the blue half of the world, to be recognized as the blue heart of the planet, the cornerstone of Earth’s life support system, the vast but vulnerable part of the planet that until recent decades has not only been beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, but also beyond the reach of the ability of humans to effectively exploit it for short term gain.

We have an opportunity – right now – to fill the gaps in governance of half of the world, the blue half that has a disproportionately significant role in maintaining Earth as a planet hospitable for life as we know it. Armed with new knowledge, we have a chance, right now, this week, to encourage governance to safeguard the high seas – as never before in history. And maybe, as never again.

The ten year olds are watching.

The ten year olds are watching — KL

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