June 8 is UN-designated World Oceans Day

The first United Nations-designated World Oceans Day is Monday, June 8. The theme that the UN came up with to inaugurate this special day is the awesomely inspiring slogan “Our Oceans, Our Responsibility.” Really conjures up the sense of fun and excitement we all feel when we head down to the beach, doesn’t it?

When I think of our oceans (or, to be more precise, our global ocean), I think seabirds:

Or sea oats:

Or perhaps even bikinis (do your own Google Image search if you want pictures!).

But, if you’re the UN, you think collective burden and guilt, heavy on the responsibility (and light on the enforcement).

The Secretary-General’s press release about the event refers to piracy and illegal fishing, both of which are devastating, but to different populations (at least in the short term), and both of which are “illegal” but nobody is doing much about either of them.

At least as far as fishing goes, though, the blame is pretty clear. At least according to Charles Clover and Prince Albert’s letter in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. They charge that the collapse of the bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean “is the result of a collossal failure by the UN’s International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.” Their call to action ends with the inspiring message:

The heartening difference between climate change and the crisis of overfishing is that we stand a far greater chance of doing something about overfishing. The costs and benefits are clear. If nothing is done, prices will rise as stocks dwindle and the bluefin goes the way of the blue whale. But if prompt action is taken millions will benefit, not only from the recovery of tuna stocks but from the many services other than food that a healthy ocean provides.

Not everyone has to bash the UN to celebrate the oceans, though. Florida’s Sea Grant program is also celebrating WOD, and their website provides many links to ocean and climate science in Florida: aquaculture, biotech, hurricane science, etc. Of course it’s heavy on the economic exploitation of a healthy ocean resource, but at least it’s not shouting.

Here, in case you don’t believe in following links, is the message from the UN Secretary-General announcing World Oceans Day:

The first observance of World Oceans Day allows us to highlight the many ways in which oceans contribute to society.  It is also an opportunity to recognize the considerable challenges we face in maintaining their capacity to regulate the global climate, supply essential ecosystem services and provide sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.

Indeed, human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas.  Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources.  Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

Oceans are also affected by criminal activity.  Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 per cent of the world’s goods.  Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans.

Several international instruments drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations address these numerous challenges.  At their centre lies the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  It provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, and is the basis for international cooperation at all levels.  In addition to aiming at universal participation, the world must do more to implement this Convention and to uphold the rule of law on the seas and oceans.

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources.  Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development.

I really don’t want to bash the UN, or rain on WOD; it’s just that I would much rather celebrate and enjoy the ocean before I rip into the problems and challenges they face. If you’re interested in reading more about some of  the challenges particular groups of animals face, try Carl Safina’s Voyage of the Turtle, or several of the chapters in Steve Nicholls’ Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery, which I finally got around to reviewing on Saturday.

And after you do that–or even before–head out to the beach and celebrate World Oceans Day!