The destruction we are inflicting on the oceans is shocking – but there is hope as countries step up to reverse the decline, writes IUCN’s Dorothée Herr from the UN Ocean Conference which closes in New York today.
The corridors are full; side-event rooms not big enough for everyone to fit. The General Assembly room could be fuller, but that doesn’t diminish the invigorating discussions happening around the halls of the United Nations building. And climate change is at the heart of, well, the bad news – but also the good.
Governments have been openly expressing their disappointment with the Trump administration pulling out the Paris Agreement. At the same time, it has been inspiring to witness the leadership of US states, cities, the private sector and other American stakeholders who are stepping up their game, and increasing efforts to curb carbon emissions. And we need to reduce emissions now. Globally. Urgently. The manifold videos of coral bleaching and the rest of the destruction we are inflicting on the oceans, screened at the Oceans Conference this week, must act as a call to action.
But there is hope – especially when you listen to stories of local communities taking matters into their own hands, governments developing their national action plans or launching new funding vehicles and NGOs creating alliances. As the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, who attended the official IUCN side event, said yesterday – “We are hearing the truth, we are hearing about problems, but we are also hearing about solutions. And it has been very encouraging to hear that nature-based solutions are part of the good story to support climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.”
Among the “superstars” in that regard are the much-loved, but undervalued, mangroves. But, as one participant put it – “we don’t lose them because of their value, but despite of it.” Also called the “unsunken heroes of the ocean”, mangroves offer many goods and services, from carbon sequestration to coastal resilience. The loss and degradation of these precious habitats continues, but we heard from Bangladesh, Mozambique and other countries about their plans and goals to increase their national mangrove cover, including through the implementation of marine protected areas.
The ocean only starts where mangroves grow. We know about the benefits of healthy seagrasses, coral reefs, seamounts and deep sea ecosystems. We know about the connectivity of the coastal zone to the open ocean. And we know about proper management tools – from areas within national jurisdiction to the high seas. Climate change will continue to creep into our oceans. It has absorbed excess heat without which land temperatures would be some 36 degrees higher than they presently are. It has bestowed great favours on us humans. It is time for us to pay it back.