Statement from Ocean Elders
Today’s New York Times published an Op-Ed entitled ‘Bigger Is Not Better for Ocean Conservation’ which argues against the protection of large sections of the ocean.
There is no argument here. Protecting small, highly-diverse places in the ocean is vital, but this alone cannot restore and maintain ocean health. The evidence speaks for itself about why safeguarding large areas of the ocean and the biological, physical, and geological systems and processes that they embrace are essential for human prosperity, health, and security. The open ocean provides more than half of the oxygen we breathe, governs climate and weather, shapes planetary chemistry, and is home for most of life on Earth. Recent discoveries confirm that even in the deep sea, thousands of feet under the Antarctic ice, there are life systems as diverse as tropical reefs. We believe that marine protected areas are critical to both the protection and the recovery of marine ecosystems from human impacts, can help restore marine life, and help reduce the impacts of climate change.
Certainly, there is much that can be learned from countries like Cuba that have done a remarkable job of protecting their coastal waters, but the fact remains that there is an urgent need to take action to secure a truly sustainable future for humankind by taking care of much more than the current 4% of the ocean now officially protected.
As never before, momentum is growing among nations to protect large areas of the ocean before vested interests destroy the very systems that drive not only our livelihoods, but fundamentally, our lives. Over the last few months, many countries, including Brazil, Chile, Mexico and the Seychelles, have created marine protected areas that build upon the announcements over the last two years by the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to protect the Ross Sea in Antarctica, by former U.S. President Barack Obama to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, and former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to designate fully protected marine reserves in the British Overseas Territories of Ascension Island, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. These efforts, among many others, are critical to restoring ecosystems damaged by human activities.
It is also worth noting that the United Nations General Assembly has agreed to begin formal negotiations for a new international treaty to protect the biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, commonly known as the High Seas which make up almost half of planet Earth. The High Seas play a critical role in the functioning of the entire ocean as well as our atmosphere, climate and terrestrial areas but remain unprotected by law allowing destructive human activities to continue unabated.
We can, and we must, safeguard vital large areas of the ocean that underpin Earth’s life support systems and urgently restore areas damaged by centuries of human degradation. As Dr. Sylvia Earle has said, “the ocean serves as the blue heart of the planet and the question we have to be asking is how much of your heart should be protected?”