The Wide, Wide Sea
Winter Sunset from Coquille Point, Bandon, Oregon. From the tropics to the arctic, the Earth’s oceans, in some way, touch everyone. Oceans cover over 140 million square miles, or about 72 percent of the Earth’s surface, and the coast is home to over 50 percent of the world’s population. Even now, when the continents have been mapped and their interiors made accessible by road, river and air, most of the world's people live no more than 200 miles from the sea and relate closely to it.
©2008 Diane Bilderback.
But, no matter where you live on Earth, what you do affects the oceans – and what happens to the oceans affects you. If it’s raining where you are, the oceans played a role. Climate and weather, even the quality of the air people breathe, depend in great measure on the interplay between the ocean and the atmosphere in ways still not fully understood.
If you drive to work, the seas are absorbing the carbon dioxide from your car. In fact, some scientists estimate that more than a third of all human-produced CO has been absorbed by the oceans, which has dramatically increased the acidity of seawater. If CO emissions continue to rise as predicted in one scenario by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2100 the oceans could become more acidic than they have been in ten million years, spelling disaster for corals and crustaceans.
If you ordered seafood for lunch, it may have come from Newport, Oregon — or it may have traveled halfway around the world — to land on your plate. Not only has the ocean always been a prime source of nourishment for the life it helped generate, but from earliest recorded history it has served for trade and commerce, adventure and discovery. It has kept people apart and brought them together.
Worldwide, ocean ecosystems provide many services most of which are undervalued and go unnoticed. They include:
• Food and Medicines
• Recreation, Tourism and Trade
• Education and Research
• Water purification
• Shoreline protection
• Nutrient cycling
• Moderation of climate
• Cultural, spiritual, and religious values
Internationally, a number of collaborative efforts exist to: improve the legal system governing international waters; build the collective knowledge base about our ocean habitats and marine life; and share information and develop plans for addressing climate change and other threats. Listed below are a number of on-going efforts:
• The United Nations Convention on the Law and the Sea — Attempts have been made through the years to regulate the use of the oceans in a single convention that is acceptable to all nations. This effort finally culminated with the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has gained nearly universal acceptance since its entry into force in November 1994. There are six main sources of ocean pollution addressed in the Convention: land-based and coastal activities; continental-shelf drilling; potential seabed mining; ocean dumping; vessel-source pollution; and pollution from or through the atmosphere.
• The Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands (GFOCI) was created at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002, to bring together ocean leaders from governments, intergovernmental and international organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, ocean donors, and scientific institutions, to achieve the sustainable development of oceans, coasts, and islands.
• GFOCI just held the 4th Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands: Advancing Ecosystem Management and Integrated Ocean and Coastal Management by 2010 in the Context of Climate Change, in Hanoi, Vietnam April 7-11, 2008. The conference focused on, among other topics, the use of systems of marine protected areas to conserve biodiversity and how climate change is leading to ocean acidification and sea-level rise.
• On September 20, 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP) fulfilled its mandate to deliver a comprehensive and coordinated national ocean policy to the President and Congress. The report recommends:
"...major changes are urgently needed ... People must understand the role the oceans have on their lives and livelihoods and the impacts they themselves have on the oceans."
"...the last 30 years have witnessed overexploitation of many fish stocks, degradation of habitats and negative consequences for too many ecosystems and fishing communities."
• In June 2003, the independent Pew Ocean Commission released the first comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policy in more than 30 years. This landmark report recommended a major shift in U.S. ocean policy to reverse the current crisis and provided practical solutions to untangle federal agencies, protect important fish breeding and feeding areas, restrain coastal development and prevent ocean pollution.
• Following release of the USCOP and PEW ocean reports, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative was established. The work of the Joint Commission is to encourage action on recommendations from the two ocean reports and provide professional advice at the national, state and local level to improve ocean health. Each year the Joint Commission issues a report card to track efforts of the nation to improve ocean health and management, with the most recent report being released for 2007.