Our Perspective


If the oceans were a country…

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If the oceans were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world – larger than Brazil’s or Russia’s. UNDP Photo

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care. We are being encouraged to dream of a better world and to make pledges to fulfill that dream. I like this. As a person who grew up on the coast of South Africa, I have a big dream: a healthy ocean that supports lives on Planet Earth.

Why choose the ocean from among the myriad of environmental issues that plague us, you might ask? Because the ocean is the basic building block that makes all life on Earth possible.

All life, the human race included, depends on healthy oceans. As the legendary marine biologist Sylvia Earle once remarked: ‘With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.” The ocean environment is unquestionably linked to human life.

The World Wildlife Fund recently estimated that the total asset base of the ocean is valued at US$ 24 trillion, and the annual gross marine product (GMP) is at least US$ 2.5 trillion. To make that real, imagine that we gave every person alive in the world today US$350 every year; we’d still have a little left over from the wealth we extract from the oceans annually. If the oceans were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world – larger than Brazil’s or Russia’s. Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihoods and are the means of transport of 80 per cent of global trade.

The marine and coastal environment also constitutes a key resource for the important global tourism industry. The seabed currently provides 32 per cent of the global supply of hydrocarbons with exploitation expanding. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable ‘blue energy’ production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources.

But despite the benefits we derive from the ocean, we still allow it to degrade.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 90 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited or have reached their maximum levels of exploitation. A recent report estimated that three quarters of all remaining coral reefs, the world’s most diverse marine ecosystem, are currently threatened, and many have already been lost. It is projected that if we continue to travel the current greenhouse gas emission pathway coral reefs will disappear by 2050.  

I recently dived among some of the most amazing coral reefs off the coast of Indonesia. Their beauty defies any dollar price tag we can place on our marine diversity.

So I dream big - my pledge for the World Environment Day is, from here on forward, to eat only sustainably caught fish. I commit to motivating people to establish marine protected areas in all parts of the globe to provide refuge for fish and coral populations. Yes, small but as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said: “Although individual decisions may seem small in the face of global threats and trends, when billions of people join forces in common purpose, we can make a tremendous difference”.

I encourage all to dream big today on how we can improve the environment, and to make your pledges. As all your actions will be connected to the ocean, you will help me realise my big dream whatever you do and however far away you may be from the sound of surf and waves.

Environment Oceans Ecosystems and biodiversity Blog post Sustainable development

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