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Seeking a more sustainable future for our oceans

June 7, 2017

Marine pollution and overfishing among others, are threatening the state of our global waters and putting 500,000 to 10 million marine species at risk.

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ocean-pollution-sm-mohamed-1By SM Mohamed Idris

“Our ocean is in serious trouble and the deterioration is increasingly posing a danger to people’s lives, livelihoods and well-being”.

On the advent of World Ocean Day on June 8, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General of UN DESA said, “The state of our ocean is worrying.”

“Marine pollution, overfishing and other challenges threaten the state of our global waters which cover 72% of the earth’s surface and is home to between 500,000 and 10 million marine species. The carrying capacity of our ocean has reached its limit,” Wu said.

Healthy oceans are critical for sustaining life, eliminating poverty and promoting prosperity. Oceans and seas are also the largest carbon dioxide sink.

But the ocean has its limits too and this will result in damaging consequences globally.

Despite their importance, our oceans and seas continue to be negatively affected by human activities.

Coastal development and land reclamation projects have robbed fishers and communities of use and access to coastal and marine resources.

This phenomenon of ocean-grabbing dispossesses marine resources and spaces that fishers and coastal communities depend on.

Fishers and coastal communities in Malaysia have not been spared from these threats as reclamation projects are abound in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Melaka, Johor and Pahang.

Hundreds of hectares of fishing grounds and marine habitats have disappeared due to the craze for reclamation.

For example in Penang, the state government plans to reclaim 4,500 acres south of the island, neglecting the heavy toll on fisher communities and marine resources.

The mining of marine sand and aggregates used for development and reclamation is also increasing and causing significant impacts to seabed flora and fauna. Millions of tonnes of sand has to be mined and rocks quarried to create new land.

Dredging and extraction of aggregates from the benthic (sea bottom) zone destroys organisms, habitats and ecosystems and deeply affects the composition of biodiversity. Research shows that this leads to a net decline in faunal biomass and abundance or a shift in species composition.

Overfishing and destructive fishing also threaten the health of our oceans, livelihood of fisher communities and food security everywhere.

In 2015, trash fish landing in Malaysia was 253,103 metric tonnes. Trash fish which is caught mainly from trawling have little or no market value as human food but is used in the production of fish meal.

Gradual depletion of fish stocks is imminent with the continued catching of these small and juvenile fishes.

Marine pollution has also increased dramatically due to sewage effluent, industrial discharge, run-offs from land-based activities, ships and other pollutants.

Every year, more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans. The problems of marine pollution are likely to worsen and pose significant ecological risk, public health risk and cause impacts to fisheries and marine habitats in the coming years.

Climate change will also impact countries with high dependency on the oceans and their marine resources.

The melting of ice bergs would raise sea levels, affecting low-lying islands and coastal areas.

Coastal zones and communities are highly vulnerable to climate change and this will be further exacerbated by other human-induced pressures.

As the oceans warm, phytoplanktons are declining and dying, subsequently affecting our planets life support system, marine species and ecosystems.

To address the issues plaguing the oceans, the United Nations is conducting the Ocean Conference under the theme “Our oceans, our future: partnering for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14” from June 5-9.

The conference is expected to produce a global “Call for Action” with a concrete plan towards a more sustainable future for our oceans.

Effective management of oceans, terrestrial, coastal and marine environment should be initiated from local to global scale to help our oceans help our future.

SM Mohamed Idris is President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia in Penang.

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