Maria Damanaki – What comes to mind when you think of the ocean? Maybe you see the planet’s last great wilderness, the wonders of which are still more of a mystery than the surface of the Moon?
Or a rich source of food and minerals, capable of meeting the energy and nutrition needs of billions worldwide? Perhaps a complex geophysical system that plays a central role in moderating our climate and replenishing the air we breathe? Or maybe something more recreational: days out on the water or sunning yourself by the shore?
The truth, of course, is that our ocean represents all these things and more – and the more uncomfortable truth is that every one of these roles is currently under threat from escalating, human-driven pressures.
Consider fisheries, for example – responsible for providing the main source of dietary protein to as many as three billion people worldwide, and yet in 90 per cent of cases being pushed close to collapse by over-exploitation. Likewise, the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on our precious coral reefs, not to mention the insidious effects of microplastic pollution and a host of other industrial threats.
Put simply, the ocean is approaching breaking point. The implications could be grave not only for those who rely directly on the seas for their wellbeing, but indeed civilisation in general. I expect this challenge to become even more visible with the imminent publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. As with previous IPCC reports, the scientific rigour and global reach of this study should focus attention on the plight of the ocean like never before.
So, what needs to change? The irony is that many of the same ecosystems currently under attack also represent some of most powerful tools in our arsenal, as we seek solutions to the wider challenges of climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse. As one of the world’s largest environmental organisations, The Nature Conservancy is developing innovative solutions that bring together key policy, finance and community actors to bring coastal ecosystems back to health.
Take sustainable aquaculture – the commercial farming of fish, shellfish and seaweed – and a perfect example of this thinking. Traditionally the sector’s reputation has been tarnished by examples of poor environmental management, but we remain resolute believers that – done right – this industry has enormous potential to meet societal needs for sustainable food while also delivering a host of benefits for everything from marine biodiversity to coastal protection. We recently published a report to this effect alongside Encourage Capital, which we hope will attract more impact investment into the most sustainable forms of aquaculture and help this sector really deliver on its potential.
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