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The Future is Blue – Born Wild

Paul Nicklen
 

“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

― Jacques Cousteau

As we flew home from the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, I could not help but reflect on how essential our oceans are to all life on Earth. Oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, and yet we still do not know as much about them as we should. We have learned, for example, that more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans, and yet we still know little of the world that resides beneath the waves. It is almost as if the ocean is an alien world within our own world.

I have devoted much of my career to learning about the sea, the wonders that reveal themselves beneath the ocean’s surface, and why it needs protecting. This is one of the reasons I established SeaLegacy with my partner, Cristina Mittermeier, to help draw attention to projects that, taken together, help sustain healthy and abundant oceans.

We have learned, for example, that the ocean will play a critical role — at least 25% — in solving the climate crisis, by acting as a giant carbon sink. Scientists calculate the world’s oceans have absorbed an estimated 67 billion tons of CO2 in just the past 30 years.

We have learned that the ocean is home to vast mineral resources, both on and inside the seabed and that they should stay there.

We have learned that from minuscule plankton to epic-size whales the ocean is a critical link in the chain that forms the foundation for all life on Earth.

And yet, throughout the world, the oceans’ health is in trouble, with 90% of large marine mammal populations depleted and coral reefs increasingly threatened by incidences of mass bleaching, to name just a few challenges.

It is in our own interest to look after the oceans, if only for socioeconomic reasons that benefit us directly. An unhealthy ocean means an unhealthy economy. An estimated 40 million people will earn their livelihood from ocean-based industries by 2030, in established and developing economies alike, but only if the oceans remain in reasonable health.

This new “blue economy” revolves around such concepts such as blue foods – providing low-carbon sustenance to counter the effects of global famine and climate change – to financial investments in blue natural capital, by regenerating coral reefs and mangrove swamps to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the lives — and livelihoods — of coastal communities.

The ocean is a precious global resource. Having a real, positive impact on our oceans will require hard work and innovation, but the potential rewards, for business and the planet alike, may well be incalculable.

Carlos Duarte, a leading marine ecologist who has studied marine biodiversity from the polar regions to the tropical seas, both near-shore and deep-sea, has focused in recent years on the impact of human activity on the world’s oceans and, more crucially, the ability of these marine ecosystems to recover from human impact. In recent years Duarte, a senior adviser to The Red Sea Development Company, has focused on the potential for regenerative tourism to help mitigate the harm caused by humans to the world’s oceans.

Regenerative tourism is just a drop in the bucket, but it reflects the kind of creative and innovative thinking we will need if we are to turn the tide against the wanton destruction of the world’s natural resources. Investments like these make sense for both the well-being of our planet and the economy, not to mention the climate itself.

While oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and provide food and livelihoods for some 3 billion people, according to a recent UN study, understanding of marine biochemical processes has not kept pace with the rapid changes posed by human activity. We cannot protect what we do not understand.

That is why, through my own efforts and those of SeaLegacy, my focus of late has been to promote ocean literacy, how people can better understand the oceanʼs influence on them and their influence on the ocean.

Francesca Santoro, Director of Ocean Literacy at UNESCOʼs Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, defines ocean literacy as providing the knowledge for people to make better, more informed decisions about ocean resources — in short, understanding how much oceans influence our lives, and how much we can influence the ocean in both positive ways.

Earlier this year, UNESCO named the coming 10 years as The Decade of Ocean Science and launched a campaign to encourage people to join the Ocean Generation global movement, by using transformative storytelling to drive action to restore, protect and live better with the ocean.

“For most of history,” Jacques Cousteau once said, “man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century, he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

We have reached a critical moment in the oceans’ survival. It is up to us to decide what we do from here.

In the last ten years, we have learned so much more about the oceans than we knew before, yet we have so much more to learn. I urge you to please join me in understanding and investing in our oceans.

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