Fomento del uso sostenible de los océanos en la práctica

What is the aim of the World Ocean Review?

    The World Ocean Review attempts to build a bridge between the theory of sustainability and its practical application in science and policy-making. It shows how attempts are now being made in various scientific disciplines to develop viable hypotheses and models through which the findings of sustainability theoreticians can be translated into social, political and economic strategies with practical relevance.

    The implementation of these strategies is ultimately a matter for policy-makers, but private individuals, businesses and public institutions can make substantial contributions to sustainable development as well. However, sustainable use is only possible if people properly appreciate the significance and value of nature and natural capital.

    What is the concept of « strong sustainability »?

      The concept of “strong sustainability”, aims to preserve natural assets – known as natural capital – and protect them from ruthless exploitation. « Strong sustainability » promotes the idea that renewable natural assets, such as fish stocks, can be exploited – but only to an extent that allows them to fully regenerate. It thus aims to reconcile the conservation of natural capital with its economic utilization and calls for the restoration of depleted natural assets. Non-regenerative resources, with all their negative impacts, should therefore be replaced with renewable ones and, above all, depleted natural resources should be replaced in full with natural capital of equal value.

      « Strong sustainability » is thus intended to provide guidance for future policy decisions and, to put this concept in practice, the Constant Natural Capital Rule (CNCR) is proposed to be used responsibly.

      What is meant by « ecosystem services »?

        In recent years, the notion of “natural capital” has often been replaced by the concept of “ecosystem services”. With this approach, the services that nature can provide, now and in the future – including marine ecosystem services – are categorized and evaluated individually. Four categories in relation to the marine environment have now been defined:

        • Provisioning services include the production of fish stocks and the shipping lanes, which nature provides free of charge.
        • Supporting services among which the most important is primary production, notably the accumulation of marine biomass from phytoplankton through photosynthesis.
        • “Regulating services” is scientists’ blanket term for the basic biological, chemical and physical processes which take place in the oceans and benefit human wellbeing, such as the absorption of carbon dioxide.
        • Cultural services include tourism but also traditions associated with the sea.

        Today, many of these services are at risk from overexploitation, pollution and climate change. Examples are the depletion of fish stocks through overfishing and sea level rise. Carbon dioxide emissions also pose a threat to the sea. A large amount of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere dissolves in seawater, causing gradual ocean acidification, with potentially devastating impacts on marine habitats such as coral reefs.

        What is the human impact on coastal regions?

          Coastal regions, many of which are densely populated, suffer disproportionately from these human-induced impacts. According to the United Nations, about 2.8 billion people – more than 40 per cent of the global population – now live in coastal cities.

          What’s more, 13 of the world’s 20 megacities with a population above 10 million are located on the coast, resulting in a high level of use and severe pollution of coastal waters in many cases. Eutrophication of coastal waters – resulting from leaching of nutrients from agriculture – causes algal blooms and oxygen depletion in seawater and is a serious problem. The physical destruction of coastal habitats continues, as a consequence of development, construction of embankments, and discharge of pollutants. Wetlands, salt meadows, sand and mudflats, coral reefs and mangrove forests are particularly at risk.

          How to achieve more sustainable use of marine habitats?

            In order to achieve a more sustainable use of marine habitats, researchers are now attempting, as a first step, to ascertain the current status of these habitats. Before targeted measures to improve them can be implemented, it is essential to have detailed knowledge of the extent to which a habitat is degraded and how close or far away it is to its original healthy state. Various global programmes have therefore been established to collect comparative datasets.

            Researchers in the US, for example, have developed the global Ocean Health Index (OHI), which allows the status of diverse marine habitats to be compared. The OHI’s scores are based on environmental factors such as biodiversity, but they also rate regions according to socio-economic criteria, such as coastal livelihoods. However, general indices of this kind are not an adequate basis for more focused environmental policy-making: this requires specific target values or caps. In Europe, these targets are currently defined in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve or maintain good marine environmental status by 2020. The Directive requires all of Europe’s coastal states to develop and implement national marine strategies in order to achieve this goal.

            What makes the developpemnt and implementation of programmes for the more sustainable management of the marine environment difficult?

              The division of the seas into separate zones is one important reason. For example, there is currently distinction made between the territorial sea, which forms part of the coastal state’s sovereign territory, the exclusive economic zone, in which a coastal state has exclusive rights to exploit the natural resources and fish stocks, and the high seas (international waters). These high seas offer a multitude of freedoms with few restrictions, with every state having a right of access. This is why many experts now recommend that the freedom of the seas be restricted in the interests of their sustainable use.

              Are there protected areas in international high seas now established?

                The establishment of protected areas in international waters is still poorly regulated in the law of the sea. There is currently no institution in existence with powers to protect an international sea area from top to bottom; in other words, from the water surface to the seabed. Nor is there any legal framework in which states might reach a binding agreement to protect and refrain from using a specific area of the sea. Some coastal states have established protected areas in their national waters, but no such arrangements currently exist in the high seas.

                Why are there only few examples of genuinely well-functioning regional ocean governance?


                  This is due, perhaps, to the sheer number of agreements, to the problems caused by vested interests, to corruption and to the lack of cooperation among the countries concerned. For example, efforts to protect the marine environment along Africa’s Atlantic coast between Mauritania and South Africa, as agreed in the Abidjan Convention, which entered into force in 1984, were quickly abandoned. Also, a coordinated approach was impeded by civil wars in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone and by a lack of technical equipment and funding and a concerted marine conservation effort by the signatory states has only recently resumed.

                  Who should direct the more sustainable use of the marine environment?

                    The demand for comprehensive and sustainable use of the marine environment and therefore for good ocean governance must be directed at all stakeholders, including policy-makers. Indeed, a multitude of relevant institutions exists at the international level, however, in most cases, their policy-making remit only covers individual issues or sectors of relevance to the marine environment. Even in the United Nations, responsibility for marine matters is divided among several organizations and agencies. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), for example, is the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for regulating international shipping, while the International Seabed Authority (ISA) deals solely with the exploitation of marine minerals in international waters. There are also various major UN organizations whose agendas, although focusing mainly on other areas, have a tangential connection to the marine environment.

                    At regional level, too, a sectorial perspective on the marine environment currently prevails. Around 600 bilateral and multilateral treaties are now in force, each governing specific types of use within a given region.

                    Are there examples of well-functioning ocean governance?

                      Despite the many obstacles, there are indeed well-functioning ocean governance. One example is the system of Port State Control (PSC), which monitors compliance with specific United Nations Conventions and allows national port authorities to detain a ship if it fails to comply with the provisions of the relevant international Conventions.

                      Another positive example is the International Martime Organisation ’s decision to impose more stringent limits on exhaust gas from ships. Among others, the sulphur content in heavy fuel oil is to be reduced worldwide by 2020. In addition, various sea areas – known as Emission Control Areas (ECAs) – have been defined in which more stringent regulations apply. A further success is the commercial whaling moratorium, which entered into force in 1986, spelling the end for the commercial hunting of the great whales. Although Iceland, Japan and Norway continue to hunt whales, the number of whales killed has decreased dramatically.

                      How, in practice, can the marine environment be protected more effectively?

                        There must, in future, be better coordination between its conservation and diverse uses.

                        As ever, marine conservation is most effective when the public itself takes action. A well-informed public with a good understanding of the marine environment can exert the necessary pressure to effect policy changes. To that end, however, it is often necessary to provide support so that people are able to take responsibility for the sustainable management of their environment. This capacity building is now a policy demand at the highest level and is enshrined in the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new global sustainability agenda for the years to 2030. It is encouraging that with this agenda, marine conservation is, for the first time, a key global goal.

                        Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is an important tool in achieving this goal. Economic activities in the marine environment, e.g. fishing, offshore wind farm construction and oil production, must be balanced against other uses such as leisure and recreation and, not least, conservation. With its Federal Spatial Planning Act (Raumordnungsgesetz), Germany is a good example of how multiple interests can be reconciled through regulation.

                        What role should scientists play in this matter?

                          In many cases, scientists can already make recommendations on how the marine environment can be better protected and used more sustainably. In other words, pathways towards more sustainable management have already been identified. Nonetheless, there are still too many vested interests, especially in the economic sphere.

                          Short-sighted and short-term profit maximization often takes priority. Overexploitation of marine resources is viewed as the price to be paid for profits. Furthermore, the political structures in many coastal states are still too inefficient to protect these states’ own marine resources and thus safeguard a sustainable future for our oceans.

                          How was the fishing exploitation eventually regulated in Europe?

                            For many years, the EU’s fishing fleet was far too large, but there was vehement opposition to any restriction on fishing from politicians keen not to lose votes, especially in structurally weak regions. Consequently, the annual Total Allowable Catches (TACs) set by fisheries ministers for the various species were far higher than recommended by fishery scientists, resulting in the progressive overexploitation of many stocks in EU waters. With the European Union’s new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), fishing in the EU will henceforth be based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The MSY is the maximum catch that can be taken from a species’ stock over an indefinite period without jeopardizing that stock’s productivity. The aim is to regulate fishing in a way which allows fish stocks to recover, enabling them to be fished at an optimal level in future. Although discussions on how the new fisheries policy should be implemented day-to-day are still ongoing, a start has been made.

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