With 82% of fish being removed faster than they can repopulate and climate change and acidification reducing the oceans' ability to absorb carbon, a crucial planetary life support system is in crisis. In the September issue we assess progress on efforts to rescue oceans in some of the key battlegrounds, from over-fishing to aquaculture, blue finance, microfibre pollution and offshore renewables

It’s easy to overlook oceans in the battle against climate change. But, as we report in our briefing on sustainable oceans this month, they could contribute as much as 21% of the emissions reduction needed to put us on a 1.5C pathway by 2050, according to the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy.

Alarmingly, warming waters and ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions, fertiliser run-off, over-fishing, and destructive activities like bottom-trawling are all contributing to the increasing loss of biodiversity and the ocean’s ability to mitigate climate change by storing carbon. An international study of 1,300 species of fish and invertebrates found that 82% were being removed faster than they could repopulate.

A goal of protecting at least 30% of oceans by 2030 is at the heart of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which was supposed to be negotiated this autumn, but has now been put off to 2021 because of the pandemic.

As Angeli Mehta reports, 30% seems a highly ambitious target, given that an agreement reached 10 years ago to protect 10% of the oceans by 2020 looks unlikely to be met, with just 7% nominally protected by 2019, and even those areas poorly enforced.

She also reports on the new surveillance and supply chain traceability technologies being deployed in the battle to save the oceans, with a focus on ending illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which is estimated to account for 20%-25% of all fishing today. Among these is the use of blockchain to trace the provenance of fish from where they are caught to the journey they undertook to arrive on consumers’ plates.

Credit: Gerard Koudenburg/Shutterstock

With wild-fish stocks in decline, a huge increase in farmed fish will be needed to help meet the protein needs of the planet. James Richens reports on how the search for sustainable aquaculture sources is focusing on the deep oceans, on land and even the laboratory.

Of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDG14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources attracts the joint lowest share of investment, at 3.5%. As Mike Scott reports, there is growing investor interest in the sector and a small but growing market for blue bonds focused on ocean projects.

While there is a high level of awareness of issues like plastic bottles and discarding fishing nets, this visible junk may represent only a tiny fraction of the problem. The rest is made up of microfibres, tiny threads that are shed by clothes during manufacturing and when they are washed, and have been found to lace the food chain. Mark Hillsdon reports on how a handful of fashion brands are starting to address their contribution to the toxic soup of ocean plastic.

This month’s briefing ends by looking at what the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy identifies as the ocean’s biggest CO2 mitigation potential in future: renewable energy installations like offshore wind, wave and tidal energy and floating solar arrays.

Offshore wind today may only account for 0.3% of power generation globally, but, as I report, the industry is scaling up rapidly, amid dramatic falls in cost, increases in turbine sizes, and recognition in Europe of its critical role in fostering a green hydrogen economy.

I hope you enjoy this month’s deep dive into oceans. You can download the magazine for free by clicking on the cover of the magazine below. Next month we will look at the future of work post Covid-19.

Main picture credit: Athit Perawongmeetha/Greenpeace



High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy  UN Convention on Biological Diversity 

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