World Oceans Day 2022 Revitalization: collective action for the ocean
Oceans, seas and coastal zones are not only essential for sustainable development, they are an integral and essential part of the Earth's ecosystem. Rainfall, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food and even the oxygen in the air we breathe are provided and regulated by the sea. It is time to stop and think about what we can do to stop their degradation.
Immersed in the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), whose main objective is to scale up ocean action based on science and innovation to achieve SDG 14, Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, June 8 marks World Oceans Day. This year's theme focuses on collective action to save the oceans, as they play a critical role in our lives and increasingly suffer the consequences of our activities.
World Oceans Day reminds every one of the major role the oceans have in everyday life
The oceans connect and sustain us; they are the lungs of our planet – they produce at least 50% of the planet's oxygen –, they are an important source of food and medicine (the main source of protein for more than one billion people worldwide), and they are a critical part of the biosphere. Not to mention that they are key to our economy, since, according to the UN, it is estimated that by 2030 there will be around 40 million people employed by ocean-based industries.
Oceans, seas and marine resources are increasingly threatened, degraded and destroyed by unsustainable practices
Oceans, seas and marine resources are increasingly threatened, degraded and destroyed by unsustainable practices, reducing their capacity to provide essential ecosystem services. The combination of human action and climate change poses a serious threat to the health of the oceans due to three main reasons: rising temperatures, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, which are interrelated.
According to the UN, the oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming. In fact, the UNESCO report published in April 2021, shows that, without adequate protection of the oceans, their crucial role in climate control could be diminished in the future.
Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet
However, fossil fuels burning and the resulting increase in the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere alters the chemical composition of water in the oceans; more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, leading to its acidification. On the other hand, these same greenhouse gases not only increase the global temperature of the planet, but also that of the oceans, which, together with changes in wind patterns, lead to changes in ocean currents. In addition, the melting of glaciers as a result of this increase in temperature also causes the sea level to rise. All of these together represent a serious threat to marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
Without adequate protection of the oceans, their crucial role in climate control could be diminished in the future
Another point to keep in mind that is not related to climate change, but to our activities, is ocean pollution. Did you know that 80% of the pollution in the oceans is caused by humans? In fact, every year eight million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism. But plastic is not the only culprit for the fact that the oceans are also big dumps – the truth is, we are the ones to blame - as every second more than two hundred kilograms of garbage end up in the oceans, something that has even led to the formation of "islands" of garbage in the seas and oceans.
The water sector finds in seawater desalination a great ally to face the challenges of water scarcity in some regions of the world. The current know-how allows this non-conventional resource to be considered a real, viable and safe alternative to supply issues. This is why the sector must also work to reduce the environmental impact of its activity, replacing the use of fossil fuels with renewable energies and reducing the impact of the brine produced in the process, which pollutes coastal ecosystems.
On the other hand, according to UN data, more than 80% of the wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or the sea without any treatment, causing water pollution. One of the targets in the 2030 Agenda is to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater.
More than 80% of the wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or the sea without any treatment
As part of the important role that the water sector has in the conservation and proper management of water resources, and taking into account that two of its greatest challenges are the low value that citizens place on water and the lack of political will of some governments, it must continue to work on improving wastewater treatment, both domestic and industrial wastewater, and on improving all industrial processes to make them as efficient and sustainable as possible. All of this against the backdrop of a technological paradigm that is having a very positive impact on integrated water cycle management.
The path forward also lies in supporting ocean science
In this Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) proclaimed by the UN, we must not only mobilize the scientific community, but also politicians, companies and civil society to support research and technological innovation to help reverse the serious situation of the oceans.
Countries currently spend between 0.04% and 4% of their research and development (R&D) money on ocean science
According to the UN, there are almost 3 billion people who depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and countries currently spend between 0.04% and 4% of their research and development (R&D) money on ocean science, so one of the goals is also to strengthen and diversify funding sources in this area: "Oceans cover more than 70% of the globe, but we have only explored less than 5%. It is our new frontier. We have many knowledge gaps about the oceans, despite their crucial role in keeping our planet safe and breathable,” says Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.
The health of the oceans is currently at a tipping point, as is the well-being of all that depend on them. That is why this World Oceans Day should serve as an opportunity to raise global awareness of the benefits we derive from the oceans, as well as of our individual and collective duty to use their resources sustainably.