If current trends in urbanisation, production, and consumption continue, the number of plastics in the world’s oceans may reach 250 million tonnes in less than 10 years, the World Bank has warned.
The Bank stated this in a statement on Monday to commemorate World Ocean Day 2020. The warning comes against the backdrop of calls for a commitment to the conservation and sustainability of the oceans through innovation and science to protect a vital resource.
There are currently an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, according to the Bank.
It said if unsustainable fishing practices and deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems continue, by 2050 there will be no usable fish stocks in the Asia Pacific Region.
Ocean and Climate Change
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, in a message to mark the Day, urged governments and all stakeholders to commit to the conservation and sustainability of the oceans through innovation and science.
“As we work to end the pandemic and build back better, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity and responsibility to correct our relationship with the natural world, including the world’s seas and oceans,” Mr Gueterres said.
“We rely on the oceans for food, livelihoods, transport, and trade”.
He said as the lungs of our planet and its largest carbon sink, the oceans play a vital role in regulating the global climate.
“Today, sea levels are rising due to climate change, threatening lives and livelihoods in low-lying nations and coastal cities and communities around the world,” he noted.
He said that the oceans are becoming more acidic, putting marine biodiversity and essential food chains in jeopardy.
The Secretary- General noted that a better understanding of the oceans is essential.
According to National Geographic, the year 2018 marked the oceans’ hottest year on record, and warmer waters lead to a range of consequences, from changing colours to rising sea levels to more frequent powerful storms.
The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is also turning ocean waters acidic, and an influx of freshwater from melting glaciers threatens to alter the weather-driving currents: the Atlantic Ocean’s currents have slowed by about 15 percent over the past few decades.
National Geographic said human activities affect nearly all parts of the ocean and lost and discarded fishing nets continue to lethally snare fish, seabirds, and marine mammals as they drift.
“Ships spill oil and garbage; they also transport critters to alien habitats unprepared for their arrival, turning them into invasive species. Mangrove forests are cleared for homes and industry. Our garbage, particularly plastic, chokes the seas, creating vast ‘garbage patches’ such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
“Fertilizer runoff from farms turns vast swathes of the ocean into dead zones, including a New Jersey-size area in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Many Gains of the Ocean
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the ocean covers three quarters of the earth’s surface and represents 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume.
It said the ocean contains nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
The ocean absorbs about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
More than three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
UNDP highlighted that the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at US$3 trillion per year, about five per cent of global GDP.
However, as much as 40 per cent of the ocean is heavily affected by pollution, depleted fisheries, loss of coastal habitats and other human activities, UNDP said.
Sustainable Development Goal 14
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) aim to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification.
The goal is designed to enhancing conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources through international law that will also help mitigate some of the challenges facing the oceans.
The oceans hold about 321 million cubic miles (1.34 billion cubic kilometres) of water, which is roughly 97 percent of Earth’s water supply. Seawater’s weight is about 3.5 per cent dissolved salt; oceans are also rich in chlorine, magnesium, and calcium. The oceans absorb the sun’s heat, transferring it to the atmosphere, and distributing it around the world. This conveyor belt of heat drives global weather patterns and helps regulate temperatures on land, acting as a heater in the winter and an air conditioner in the summer.
Despite regular discoveries about the ocean and its denizens, much remains unknown. More than 80 per cent of the ocean is unmapped and unexplored, which leaves open the question of how many species there are yet to be discovered. At the same time, the ocean hosts some of the world’s oldest creatures: Jellyfish have been around more than half a billion years, horseshoe crabs almost as long.
The World Oceans Day is an international day that takes place annually on 8 June.