14 September 2018, San Francisco
Jane Lubchenco, Oregon State University
The ocean is an amazing place. I find it endlessly fascinating, as do my grandkids. And, as a scientist, I know how vital it is to the well-being of everyone on Earth. The ocean sustains and feeds us. It connects us. It is our past and our future. And… the ocean is full of secrets. Fortunately, science is unlocking some of those secrets. I’m here to share some of what scientists are learning.
Make no mistake, the impacts of climate change on the ocean are well underway – and getting worse. The ocean is higher, warmer, stormier, sicker, more acidic, and with less oxygen. And, that means it’s also more disrupted and less predictable. These changes are a big, big problem – both for many ocean critters and for people.
BUT! The ocean is also key to mitigating and adapting to climate change. Marine Protected Areas (or MPAs) and fishery reforms are two prime examples.
Marine Protected Areas
Highly protected MPAs are one of the strongest tools we have to enhance the resilience of ocean ecosystems. If they are large, well designed, and enforced, highly protected areas can do evenmore than provide safe havens for wildlife. They can also capture & store carbon, restore ecological balance, protect coastal areas from storm surge and coastal erosion, preserve the genetic diversity that is essential for adaptation, and help recover depleted fisheries. Pretty impressive!
But, despite those fabulous benefits, we’ve only protected 4% of the ocean. Compare that to 15% of the land protected. Moreover, only 2% of the ocean is highly protected. My conclusion? We have a very powerful tool that is just waiting to be deployed!
Many countries are making pushes to achieve their commitments of protecting 10% of the ocean by 2020, which is a great start, but to really harness the full power of MPAs, we must highly protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030. It is encouraging that there are some exciting prospects under development, for example, Germany’s proposal to create a 1.8m km2 area (that is 5x the area of Germany!) in the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic.
A key point here is that only highly protected areas provide the biodiversity and climate adaptation outcomes needed. Minimally protected MPAs simply do not.
In parallel, reforming fisheries is essential if we want to provide food security and avoid theworst ravages of climate change. Because fisheries provide livelihoods to 10% of the global population and over 20% of the protein for over 3b people, this is an urgent and easilyoverwhelming challenge.
The good news is that recent research by Steve Gaines and his colleagues at UCSB, the Environmental Defense Fund, & elsewhere have found that improving fishery management could actually offset many of the negative effects of climate change. This is because climate change is altering both productivity of the ocean and the location of many stocks. Fisheries could be reformed to jointly fix current problems and make fisheries more resilient to climatechanges. Making these reforms is not be easy, but given what is at stake, this should be one of the highest priorities.
The seafood industry is beginning to step up. Startled by the pending impacts of climate change, the 10 largest seafood companies in the world, in partnership with scientists led by the Stockholm Resilience Center, just announced SeaBOS – Seafood Businesses for Ocean Stewardship with the goal of making seafood production more sustainable.
These two tools – highly protected MPAs and fishery/aquaculture reform is what ocean climate action looks like. What does it take? Leadership, Science, Finance, and Courage.
Let me close with this thought. Sea monsters have captured people’s imaginations since time immemorial. We now know we’ve created our very own monster whose name is climate change. It threatens our health, our economy, and our security.
But this is not a fairy tale in which a lone heroine saves the day, but rather a real-life story in which citizens, businesses, scientists, and governments work in concert to tame the beast.
Now is the time to conquer this monster, defang it, and harness its power. To be sure, this is a very nasty monster, but adding powerful ocean climate action to efforts already underway is the secret ingredient we need.
Ocean. Climate. Action!