UN campaign draws attention to the world’s ailing oceans

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n Iraqi man steers his boat around dead fish floating on the Euphrates in central Iraq. (AFP)
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Plastic bottles and waste cover a beach south of Beirut. (AFP)
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Pollution has left the world’s waterways on the brink of an ecological disaster, marine conservationists warn. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2019

UN campaign draws attention to the world’s ailing oceans

  • Microplastics floating in the ocean are making their way into the food chain
  • Most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades or centuries after use

DUBAI: When it comes to the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis, plastic waste is just one among many threats. But the danger it poses specifically to the health of the oceans is on an altogether different scale.

Against this grim backdrop, the UN is launching a global campaign targeting plastic pollution, “Play it Out,” to mark World Oceans Day on June 8.

The 8 million metric tons of plastic that leak into the ocean every year inflict enormous damage on a delicate ecosystem, killing an estimated 100,000 marine animals, experts say.

Most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades, or even centuries, after being used. Those that disintegrate end up as micro-plastics, which are swallowed by fish, seabirds, turtles and mammals, and make their way into the global food chain.

“Plastics essentially never decompose, they just break into smaller bits,” said Natalie Banks, a UAE-based marine conservationist. “Currently more than 5 trillion pieces are estimated to be floating in the sea.”

Following decades of overuse, a surge in single-use plastic bags is raising the spectre of global ecological disaster. Experts in the Gulf region are urging people to think globally and act locally when using plastic to make an impact.

“Plastic pollution forms the greatest threat to ocean health worldwide,” said Lachlan Jackson, founder and managing director of Dubai-based Ecocoast, which is developing solutions to create cleaner, healthier oceans and coastlines.

Pointing to the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world — the so-called great Pacific garbage patch, which lies between San Francisco and Hawaii — as one of nature’s warning signs, Jackson said: “It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic are entering the oceans each year from rivers.”

INNUMBERS

1m — Number of species in the world’s oceans

30% — Percentage of carbon dioxide produced by humans absorbed by oceans

2.6bn — People dependent on oceans as primary source of protein

200m — People employed directly or indirectly by marine fisheries

40% Percentage of ocean heavily affected by human activities

3bn — People dependent on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods

Source: UN

 

Oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and represent 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume. Scientists believe the sea is home to about 1 million species of animals. So far, they have found nearly 200,000 marine virus species organized into five distinct ecological zones.

The ocean’s economic significance can hardly be overstated. More than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, according to estimates, with the so-called ocean economy expected to grow from $1.5 trillion in 2010 to $3 trillion in 2030.

While as much as 40 percent of the ocean is heavily affected by pollution, depleted fisheries, loss of coastal habitats and other human activities are accelerating the decline. The Maldives, for example, was hit by three major coral-bleaching incidents between 1998 and 2016, causing a spiral of coral death and reef decline.

All three events were said to be due to changes in weather patterns that resulted in higher ocean temperatures. Indeed, climate change is suspected to be one of the primary causes of coral bleaching.

“Last year, 7 km of land was reclaimed to build tourist islands in the Maldives similar to the World Islands in Dubai,” Jackson said. “Dredging and dumping of millions of tons of sand causes a significant threat to the marine environment. It can kill off a large number of corals, turning reefs into dead coral wastelands.”

There there is the issue of oil spills. Such incidents occur in the Gulf region with troubling frequency and affect not only people living along the coastline but also, indirectly, everyone from fishermen and hoteliers to tourists, diving centers and protected area authorities.

Compounding the problems afflicting the Gulf’s waters are brine disposal from desalination plants and the threat of invasive marine species.

“Clean, healthy oceans are critical to our survival,” Jackson said. “Yet the world — our environment and technology — is changing at an exponential rate. The world needs more pioneering solutions to support and protect our marine environment against the impact of development. With less rubbish in our waters, our marine life will be safer and healthier, as will be the seafood we consume.”

Jackson said Ecocoast strives to eliminate rubbish, debris and other pollutants from waterways and oceans, which could result in cleaner water and a healthier marine ecosystem. 

“We launched the Middle East’s first innovation lab for pioneering marine technologies in 2018 — Ecolabs — to solve the world’s most pressing marine problems,” said Dana Liparts, co-founder and director at Ecocoast and Ecolabs.

“The philosophy behind Ecolabs is that no single company or individual can solve the world’s most pressing marine problems. Collaboration is paramount and it will work as a platform that will bridge the gap between marine problems and solutions.”

Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of the UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook, pointed out that oceans absorb pollutants and about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impact of global warming. “If we don’t fix all the different problems, we’ll lose our biggest ally in combating climate change,” she said.

“The most important source of clean air is our oceans. They provide us with 70 percent of the air we breathe. We need to act fast and make sure that the health of our oceans is preserved. For every 10 breaths we take, seven come from the oceans.”

According to Banks, the UAE-based marine conservationist, despite the ocean’s known life-sustaining role, almost all the problems that face it — from global warming and acidification to overfishing and plastic pollution — can be attributed to human activity.

“The Paris Accords aim to curb ocean warming in the sense that when countries move away from burning fossil fuels, they help to reduce acidification of ocean waters,” Banks told Arab News.

“With regard to the fishing industry, much of it loses money and is subsidized as a result, and in many places there is little or no regulation of catch or gear, and very little enforcement.”

On the positive side, Banks said, large-scale marine protected areas closed to fishing have made a big difference. Likewise, though on a smaller scale, the practice of declaring certain areas off-limits to all except local people who manage their own fishing is a promising development.

“Illegal fishing, including unreported catches, is a problem with global dimensions,” Banks said, adding that subsidies for fishing must eventually end and the importance of satellite tracking of fishing boats should be recognized.

“What is needed to replace petroleum-based plastics completely is a new era of engineering materials that perform like plastic but are truly biodegradable and have lifetimes scaled to actual use. I have recently come across materials grown from fungi and seaweed to replace plastic packaging.”

Banks said the diversity and productivity of oceans is vitally important for humankind.

“Our security, our economy, and our very survival require healthy oceans,” she said. “People need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, medicines, a climate we can live in, inspiration and recreation. The oceans provide all that and much more.”


Trump backs Johnson, sends mixed signals on China at G7

Updated 11 min 37 sec ago

Trump backs Johnson, sends mixed signals on China at G7

  • “He’s going to be a fantastic prime minister,” Trump said
  • Trump also appeared to back off from a threatened further escalation in his battle with China

BIARRITZ: US President Donald Trump on Sunday backed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the “right man” for Brexit and sent mixed signals about his trade war with China at a G7 summit dominated by worries about the global economy.
Johnson and Trump were on obviously friendly terms as they sat down for a working breakfast in the southern French resort of Biarritz where Group of Seven leaders are gathering this weekend.
“He’s going to be a fantastic prime minister,” Trump said in their first meeting since Johnson took office last month.
Asked what his advice was for Brexit, Trump replied: “He needs no advice. He’s the right man for the job. I’ve been saying that for a long time.”
In the lead-up to the talks, Johnson had appeared at pains to distance himself from Trump after facing accusations in the past of being too cosy with the American leader.
And at their meeting, Johnson again pressed a common message from European leaders at the summit about Trump’s escalating trade war with China.
“Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favor of trade peace on the whole,” Johnson told Trump.
The 73-year-old US leader promised Johnson “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had,” but couldn’t resist another undiplomatic dig at the European Union.
Trump compared it to an “anchor around their ankle.”
But to the relief of his partners, Trump also appeared to back off from a threatened further escalation in his battle with China.
“I think they respect the trade war. It has to happen,” Trump told reporters.
Asked whether he was having second thoughts, he replied: “I have second thoughts about everything.”
The Basque resort of Biarritz, which at this time of year usually teems with surfers and sunbathers, has been turned into a fortress for the G7 event with over 13,000 police on duty.
An anti-capitalism demonstration in nearby Bayonne turned ugly Saturday night when the crowd of several hundred tried to get through police barricades and was repelled with water cannon and tear gas.
Earlier on Saturday, organizers in the French border town of Hendaye said 15,000 people rallied in a peaceful march over the Bidassoa River toward the Spanish town of Irun.
G7 summits, gathering Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, were once a meeting of like-minded allies, but they have become a diplomatic battlefield in the Trump era.
“This may be the last moment to restore our political community,” EU Council president Donald Tusk said on Saturday.
Over an open dinner dinner of red tuna at the foot of a landmark lighthouse in the famed surf town of Biarritz, the leaders began talks on Saturday night attempting to narrow their differences.
The US-China trade war, but also fires in the Amazon and the Iranian nuclear crisis, were on the menu.
“You did very well last night President Macron,” Johnson told his French host as the leaders met for a session to discuss the world economy. “That was a difficult one.”
In a sign of the difficulties, Macron thought he had agreed a common G7 position on Iran to try to find a way out of the current impasse that has seen tensions spiral in the Middle East.
Macron said in an interview to French television that they had “agreed on what to say to Iran.”
But Trump, who has previously accused Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Iran, denied it.
“We’ll do our own outreach. But you can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk,” he said.
In a radical break from previous meetings of the elite club, there is to be no final statement at the end of the talks on Monday, an admission of lowered expectations.
Macron has also invited several world leaders from outside the G7 such as India’s Narendra Modi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi who will join the meeting on Sunday.
Macron is also pushing for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s angry response to what he sees as outside interference.