We live in a time of significant pressures, challenges and changes in our ocean and coastal environments. Overfishing, habitat loss in coastal, shelf and deep sea ecosystems, ocean acidification, dead zones, and multiple development pressures in populated coastal zones present just some of the complex array of issues that require solutions. In addition we are seeing ocean issues rapidly move up the political agenda. This is due to a growing societal awareness of our links and reliance on the oceans for many ecosystem services such as climate regulation, provision of food and resources and places to relax and play. The oceans sustain the global economy and maintain our quality of life - their management and conservation is essential for continued existence on this planet.
Like many, I was raised in a coastal environment in Australia and spent many years growing up surfing, snorkelling and swimming in the marine environment. Sometimes one can forget what it is like to be able to swim in a clean sea, and to take it for granted that the sea will stay the same in perpetuity. Being able to experience the scale of oceans by air or by boat leaves one with a feeling about their scale - how can something this large possibly be under threat? How can marine resources or the habitats that sustain them be threatened? This however, is exactly what is happening on a global scale with the cumulative over exploitation in fisheries, impacts on deep sea habitats, mineral exploitation, dumping, and pollution just a few of the myriad problems that face ocean systems. The emerging threat of climate change also raises a global challenge as species respond to altered oceanographic conditions and ocean acidification becomes a threat to the biogeochemical infrastructure of the ocean.
The management and conservation of the oceans is moving up the agenda, presenting an opportunity to shift to a sustainable and ecosystem based management approach. Recently, an article from the Worldchanging blog highlighted a demand for a new global marine agreement that strengthens the Law of the Sea and creates limits and opportunities for extraction of living and non living resources. Its a big ask - but a worthy goal that we should use to move towards the closing of the many loopholes in international law that allow for unsustainable practices like illegal, unregulated & unreported fishing.
The mix of problems relate to the ecosystems, economies and societies that occur within a particular region. It is this regional scale that must addressed to deliver ecosystem based management of marine resources. There are clear opportunities for new developments and sectors such as renewable energy, tourism and sea cage aquaculture but the development of these new sectors will compete with existing uses and users of the ocean. Finding the means to integrate economic sectors and balance with environmental protection is a major challenge for the research community and decision makers.
This is challenging as we are attempting to manage a complex natural system(s) through highly political processes. While we currently manage the various interests and sectors in isolation, there is change afoot. The past decade has seen the growth of the oceans policies or marine bills around the world, with the UK, Scotland and the EU recently getting on board with this type of integrated 'joined up' thinking. However, as is being discovered, particularly after a decade of practice in Australia and Canada, this is not a particularly easy or cheap task.
A part of this blog is to highlight and support the ideas of new and up and coming marine scientists and social scientists, many who will be faced with these challenges in the near future. Over the next few months and in addition to our regular updates, we will be hearing the thoughts on a range of marine issues from the students of the SAMS Bachelor of Marine Science: Marine Resources module. We look forward to the exchange of ideas, knowledge and debate that will support the transition to Sustainable Seas.
Welcome to the blog of the Blue Planet.