95% of the planet’s oceans are still unexplored, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, US Department of Commerce).  That’s an extraordinary fact, especially when you consider that 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in salt water and that water contains some of the most fascinating and extraordinary forms of life we will ever encounter.  Giles Andreae’s inspired trip through the wonders of the sea with Commotion in the Ocean speaks volumes about our endless fascination with sea life (if you’re not familiar with the book and have young children, it’s a must-get!).

Not only are there beautiful things to see in these waters but the oceans also provide food and work for many millions of people – in the US over 1/3 of the Gross National Product originates from coastal areas, in the UK it is estimated that maritime activity provides employment for over 1m people.

However, the health of our oceans continues to be threatened from three sides: climate change, pollution and over-fishing and, while these are all things that humans have the ability and wherewithal to do something about, precious little has yet been done.  In March, Huffington Post reported on the latest Greenpeace campaign to raise awareness of sustainable fishing, ‘Shark vs. Mermaid Death Squad’.

In the UK (and other parts of the world) we vehemently protect our green spaces – the green belt makes up 13% of our total land area.  Yet, only 2.3% of our oceans is protected by marine reserves according to Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE).  

Human propensity for an ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach to the environment ensures the continued steady decline of these beautiful, much unknown underwater worlds.

Climate change: Ocean acidification is now a widely recognised term referring to the reduction of pH in the water caused by the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.  When CO2 is absorbed by seawater the water becomes more acidic and causes carbonate ions, which, among other things, are the building blocks of structures such as shells and coral skeletons (a bit like calcium for bones), to be less abundant.  The ocean absorbs around 30% of CO2 that’s released into the atmosphere and, as the levels of CO2 increase with global warming, so do the levels present in the ocean.

Pollution: Statistics for pollution of our oceans continue to be shocking.  Interestingly, around 80% of global marine pollution comes from land-based sources, according to UNESCO  – mostly agricultural run-off, discharge of nutrients and pesticides and untreated sewage (including plastics).  The UN Environment Programme states that there are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in every square mile of ocean!  This pollution has left us with around 245,000 km2 of deadzones globally (equivalent to the size of the UK’s landmass) where marine life can’t survive and ecosystems collapse. 

Over-fishing: The third ‘ocean-attacker’ is possibly the most widely known due to media interest in recent years.  TV documentaries and films such as The End of the Line, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2009, have highlighted the issues which have resulted in three quarters of the world’s fish stocks being harvested more quickly than they can reproduce.   The ocean provides a vital source of human nourishment, especially to people in the world’s poorest nations – many millions of individuals depend on fish for their primary source of protein.

But funding for marine conservation is still pitifully low when compared with other environmental concerns.  It seems the issue still remains that a huge part of the ocean belongs to no one and, unlike our green areas, is so far removed from our everyday lives (and mostly out of sight) that no one has taken responsibility for it.  But we only have one planet and if we want our children and our children’s children to have a future worth living, we need to be taking action now. 

Like other environmental and sustainability challenges, it is apparent that the collaboration between commercial partners, NGOs and governments can help to drive considerable change.  This partnership approach is now the driving principal behind organisations like BLUE, which aims to increase the area of protected marine reserves, where commercial fishing is banned, to 10% by 2020.  As a percentage, this will still be less than the protected green areas in UK for example but it is certainly a long way in the right direction and, if this can be achieved, it will clear the path for further progress.

Collaboration will be a major topic of discussion at the forthcoming Responsible Business Summit 2013, 7-8 May in London.  Speakers from Greenpeace, The Economist, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, RiiR and London Business School will kick off two days of discussion about the ability for business, NGOs and government to successfully address long term corporate responsibility and sustainability challenges post RIO +20.  The Conscious Communications team is proud to be helping Ethical Corporation promote this event, which we hope will have far reaching impact and help fuel constructive collaborations.

We have a client enjoying a well-earned break in Thailand this week, with plans to do some leisurely snorkelling.  We know he’ll enjoy some extraordinary underwater sights, which we hope as a race we can help to preserve for generations to come.

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