|The great philosopher who developed the Principle of Responsibility, Hans Jonas, once remarked: Today, mankind is a bigger threat to the sea than the sea has ever been to mankind.
This edition of Our Planet marks the annual World Environment Day celebrations. The theme Seas and Oceans! Wanted Dead or Alive? reflects Jonas observations, his concerns. From overfishing and the discharge of untreated, raw, sewage to the clearing and destruction of precious habitats like coral reefs and mangrove swamps, the worlds marine environment is under assault as never before.
UNEP, and the rest of the United Nations system, is not standing idly by, merely a witness and chronicler of the damage. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the World Summit on Sustainable Developments (WSSD) Plan of Implementation give us clear targets and timetables for addressing a wide range of pressing issues including those relating to oceans and seas.
Under the plan, we all have the responsibility to restore fish stocks to healthy levels by 2015, where possible. Significantly, it also urges establishing a global network of marine protected areas. Already we are seeing action on this from proposals dramatically to extend Australias protection for its Great Barrier Reef to moves by six West African countries Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal to develop a network of marine protected areas aimed at reducing overfishing and possible threats from oil exploration.
Reducing sewage pollution will also cut discharges which can choke precious marine habitats, like coral reefs. These are fish nurseries and significant generators of tourist dollars for often poor coastal communities.
Delivering the WSSD sanitation target should lead to further spin-offs for the marine world. In some situations, modern wastewater treatment works may be appropriate. But natural systems some of which, like mangrove swamps, are coastal and marine can provide low-cost alternatives. Many are being cleared for agriculture and other uses. By focusing attention on their sewage and pollution filtering properties, valuable habitats for spawning fish and birds can be saved.
The seas are special but there are some areas that are especially vulnerable to interference by humankind.
Solutions to their plight will be the focus of the Barbados+10 meeting to be held in Mauritius later in 2004.
These activities are not carried out in isolation.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its implementing agreements are now in force alongside numerous regional fisheries agreements.
We now have 13 regions covered by the UNEP Regional Seas Programme, the latest of which covers the North East Pacific. There are also three, non-UNEP, regional seas agreements including the Oslo Paris Commission (OSPAR) Convention.
UNEP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, is also leading the four-year Global International Waters Assessment or GIWA. This is a sort of marine and freshwater equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Sixty-six international waters are being assessed with the aim of giving the international community crucial information on where current problems are.
Significantly GIWA will also develop scenarios of the future conditions of these waters as a result of social, economic and environmental pressures, allowing the international community to prioritize efforts.
I am delighted to say that GIWA is well under way. Work on several significant regions, including the Amazon Basin, the Indian Ocean Islands and the Caspian Sea, has been successfully completed.
UNEPs Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) was also given big backing by WSSD.
By 2006, up to 40 mainly developing countries are expected to have national programmes of action in place to reduce the levels of pollution entering the sea from the land and from rivers
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Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Into the mainstream | Creations forgotten days | Restoring a pearl | Stop my nation vanishing | Energy release | Oceans need mountains | People | An ocean corridor | At a glance: Seas, oceans and small islands | Profile: Cesaria Evora | No island is an island | Small islands, big potential | Small is vulnerable | Natural resilience | Books and products | Keeping oil from troubled waters | Redressing the balance | Neighbours without borders | Will Mother Nature wait? | Pacific canaries