Nowhere in the world are the gifts from the oceans — food provision, biodiversity, shoreline protection and many others — more obvious than along the coasts of Asia.
With the largest share of the world population, the largest number of coastal fishermen, over 90 percent of global aquaculture production (both freshwater and marine), the most diverse marine ecosystems and the most severe natural disasters, people in Asia receive both blessings and curses from the seas. These people know that oceans give and take, and that careful marine management is absolutely essential for their survival and for the future of their children.
Over the last week, I have traveled to some of Asia’s economic powerhouses to discuss ocean conservation. So far, I’ve been impressed by the level of interest and priority given to marine issues by government officials, corporations and civil society organizations. This demonstrates both the dependence of economic development on healthy ocean ecosystems and the realization that “business as usual” will undermine future prosperity and reduce the flow of benefits from oceans to Asia’s people.
In South Korea, I attended the Monaco Blue Initiative convened by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco in Yeosu, the home of Expo 2012, a three-month international exposition with the theme of “Living Oceans and Coasts.” The initiative is a think tank that brings together scientific, economic, political and non-government actors committed to the preservation of oceans, and aims to share best practices and new perspectives on international cooperation for the sustainable management of oceans.
This year’s meeting focused on marine protected areas (MPAs), and private sector representatives, government officials, academics and conservationists passionately discussed how MPAs can benefit both nature and people through sustainable fisheries, tourism, energy production and other economic activities without destroying the ecosystems that underpin these services. President Tong of Kiribati also gave a memorable keynote presentation about his country’s innovative approaches to ocean conservation through the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Oceanscape.
In Japan, my colleagues at CI-Japan had arranged meetings with senior government officials and a leading academic to discuss opportunities to advance marine conservation collaboration and outcomes in the island nation. As one of the largest seafood markets in the world, Japan and Japanese companies have the potential to drive change for sustainable fisheries through supply chains extending throughout Asia, and even to Latin America and Africa.
The country’s slow economic growth means that all government funded programs are under scrutiny, and demonstrating how marine research has practical implications for management, decision-making and ultimately human well-being represents an opportunity for CI to engage on marine issues in Japan.
My final stop was China, where I attended a World Oceans Day event in Beijing co-organized by CI, the State Oceanic Administration and China National Offshore Oil Corporation. In true “Oscar gala” style, with a red carpet and numerous Chinese celebrities, movie stars and dignitaries, 10 ocean heroes received awards for their contribution to ocean understanding and management.
It was my honor to present one of the awards to a fisherman with a passion for sea rescue who has saved many people in distress in Chinese coastal waters. The wide range of professions of the awardees — from a movie director to a beach cleaner to an oceanographer — highlights how ocean issues are central to the aspirations of many Chinese people.
Asia’s current focus on ocean issues may have geopolitical implications, but when it comes to the importance of a healthy ocean for continuing economic development, there are no disputes. The common desire of better managing the oceans is shared among countries in Asia and beyond.
At Rio+20, oceans can be the basis for an agenda of collective action to ensure peace and prosperity for all people who depend on the ocean for our survival — all 7 billion of us.
Sebastian Troeng is the vice president of CI’s Global Marine division.