At World Economic Forum, Discussing the Future of Our Oceans

A coral reef in the Verde Island Passage, Philippines. (© CI/ photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

My career has taken me all over the world — from diving in the freezing waters of the Antarctic while studying ice ecology to working with the remote country of Kiribati in the central Pacific to help protect their marine resources for future generations. I am a specialist in undersea technology and exploration, and have logged thousands of hours SCUBA diving in all five oceans.

I have also lectured across the globe, and this past weekend I once again found myself in one of the more high pressure environments an ocean scientist can be found: speaking in front of the top business and government leaders at the preeminent global economic conference.

For the third year in a row, I have had the privilege to attend the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, along with over 1,600 business leaders, 40 heads of state and hundreds of leaders from academia, the media and non-profit organizations — including my good friend and fellow ocean scientist and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle.

During the conference I was able to attend various sessions, discussions and debates in subjects ranging from energy consumption to food security. My main role at WEF, however is heading up its Ocean Governance council, an extremely exciting and rewarding position that has allowed me to bring together representatives from diverse backgrounds.

CI Chief Ocean Scientist and World Bank President Robert Zoellick participate in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum.

Being able to convene with these business leaders, policy makers and scientists, it seems that the oceans have finally arrived on the global agenda and are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. While in Davos, I participated in a panel called “The Ocean Solution,” along with Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank Group; Clarence Otis Jr., chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants; Koji Sekimizu, the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization; and John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of the Economist. Our main focus was to answer the question: With the health of mankind closely linked to the health of oceans, how can growth and development be reconciled with conservation?

During this discussion, I stressed a point that I try to reinforce whenever I talk about the future of humanity: The oceans are the world’s greatest resource and have the potential to address the needs of a growing human population.

The oceans provide a large number of ecosystem services, including the provision of biodiversity, clean water, food and oxygen. Over 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the oceans, and over 1 billion people rely on fish as a key source of nutrition. Acting as the Earth’s primary life support system, the oceans make the planet a livable and prosperous place for everyone. However, as demands upon the oceans rise, their health and ability to provide these services is diminished.

Our dialogue during the panel addressed the issues on a number of different dimensions: measuring and benchmarking ocean health, linking ocean conservation and development, and promoting sustainable business practices.

Having a greater understanding of those first two dimensions is something that will occur sooner than most people know. Later this year, the Ocean Health Index — the first global measure of the ocean’s health – will be released. Led by an extensive team of scientists worldwide, the index is broken out into 10 goals which include food provision, tourism and recreation, livelihoods and biodiversity and will allow scientists, policy makers and business leaders to understand and address the health of the ocean on a local, regional and global scale.

Greg Stone

Discussing these important issues at Davos, I am very optimistic that we can address the problems the ocean faces and take the actions necessary to restore them to a more sustainable level. If we can improve the health of our oceans, they will be an important safety net as we struggle to provide for 9 billion people by the middle of this century.

Greg Stone is CI’s chief scientist for oceans.


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