By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)
The good news: oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the world’s water, represent 99% of the living space on the Planet by volume, and are a major source of food and medicine. Much so that they are the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.
More: Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
And the bad news
The bad news is that, with 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, human beings are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.
Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste
Indeed, there is another ‘crime’ being committed as a consequence of the unrelenting business obsession with making more and more money. It is about illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice that threatens marine biodiversity, livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.
The ‘criminal’ depletion of the fish
Much so that if ‘business’ goes as usual –and all indicate that it will– there will be more tons of plastic than fish by the year 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Moreover, there are issues of marine debris and marine litter involved in IUU fishing, which are not only related to the marine environment but also the safe navigation of ships, explains the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Who is the worst enemy?
Commenting on their exceptional importance for human beings, the United Nations chief, António Guterres warned on the occasion of the 2023 World Oceans Day (8 June) that “we should be the ocean’s best friend. But right now, humanity is its worst enemy.”
Guterres called oceans ‘the foundation of life’, as they supply the ‘air we breathe and the food we eat,’ while regulating climate and weather.
The greatest reservoir of biodiversity. And of litter
“Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste.”
According to reports, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, is distributed across the ocean.
This waste decimates marine ecosystems by killing more than a million animals a year, it reports, adding that organisations like Greenpeace report that floating plastic accounts for only 15% of the total, while 85% remains hidden underwater — at depths of up to 11,000 metres, or even trapped in Arctic ice.
Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. If nothing is done about it, by 2040, the equivalent of 50 kg of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide is projected to flow into the ocean yearly, the world leading environmental body informs.
It is estimated that by the year 2030, the world’s coastal populations will contribute three trillion dollars to the global economy in sectors as diverse as fisheries, and tourism, as well as emerging green and blue economies such as renewable energy and marine biotechnology.
More human ‘crimes’ against life
Another major body, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has also focused on the dangers of plastic pollution also to the world’s soils and crops.
On this, it reports that the qualities that make plastic useful are also the ones that make it hazardous: ‘designed to fool nature itself, most plastics are too resilient to biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe.’
The Convention further says that the world’s current efforts to recycle plastics have been inefficient so far: only 9% of plastic is recycled globally, and much of it is either thrown away or cannot be processed for recycling.
“One-third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater, endangering our food, our livestock and the health of the soil. Invisible to the eye, microplastics linger in the environment, the food chain, and our bodies.”
Soil is the foundation of our agricultural systems which support nearly all food-producing crops: about 95% of our food comes from the soil, UNCCD further explains.
“Fertile soil that produces food is a finite resource, and plastic pollution can have a long-lasting impact on soil health, biodiversity and productivity, all of which are essential to food security.”
Deadly contaminated food
Talking about food security, did you know that “every day, some 1.6 million people worldwide fall ill from eating contaminated food, which kills 420,000 people each year,” as reported by two UN agencies on the occasion of the 2023 World Food Safety Day, (7 June).
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have in fact reported that “over 200 diseases are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances such as heavy metals.”
The staggering impacts of human activities against the oceans and everywhere else do not end here. There is still more, much more, to report on the deadly consequences for the world’s oceans, soils, and the whole cycle of life of the human addiction to fossil fuels.