World's oceans reaching point of no return, says UN

By Sam Knight
//www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2229211,00.html

The UN has warned the world's governments that humankind's exploitation of the sea could be passing the point of no return.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that more than half of the world's fish stocks are being exploited to their full extent, with nearly a quarter suffering from over-fishing.

Meanwhile, pollution, litter and deep sea drilling are all reaching into the depths of a marine environment hitherto preserved from the hand of man.

In the Central Pacific, the study found, there is now up to 6lb of marine litter to every 1lb of plankton. Elsewhere, there are around 46,000 pieces of plastic litter for every square mile of the world's oceans.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s new executive director, said that particular attention must be paid to the 60 per cent of the world's oceans that are beyond the reach of national jurisdictions and conservation efforts, where modern technology and a lack of regulation is combining to harm the environment.

"Humankind's ability to exploit the deep oceans and high seas has accelerated rapidly over recent years," he said.

"It is a pace of change that has outstripped our institutions and conservation efforts whose primary focus have been coastal waters where, until recently, most human activity like fishing and industrial exploration took place. We now most urgently need to look beyond the horizon and bring the lessons learnt in coastal water to the wider marine world."

According to the report, just 1 per cent of the world's 3.5 million fishing boats are thought to be large, industrial vessels, but the giant loads they trawl from the deep sea account for around 60 per cent of all the fish caught on the planet.

Industrial fishing has helped to drive down the world's stocks of tuna, cod, swordfish and marlin by as much as 90 per cent in the last century.

Adding to the strain on the oceans, the UN estimated that nearly $10 billion of fish are caught illegally each year, up to 30 per cent of which is taken from unregulated waters.

Illegal longline fishing also kills more than 300,000 seabirds every year, including 100,000 albatrosses. Nineteen out 21 albatross species are now threatened with extinction.

The report also described a range of activities, including energy development and scientific research such as "bioprospecting" - the collection of biological artefacts for new products - that encroach on waters up to 2,000m below the ocean surface.

"Throughout the oceans, shipping, military operations and seismic exploration have intensified with growing impacts on deep water and high sea ecosystems and biodiversity," said Kristina Gjerde, a UN High Seas Policy Advisor who wrote the report.

"The spectre of climate change and its impacts such as ocean warming and acidification underscore the need to reduce direct human impacts, because healthy ecosystems are better able to respond to changing oceanic conditions."

Reacting to the report, Tim Yeo, the Conservative MP who is chairing a study of the Government's plans for a Marine Bill, said that Britain should take the lead in devising a new regulatory framework for the world's open waters.

"For generations we have regarded the sea as a resource we can all deplete at will. Those chickens are now coming home to roost," he said.



Time running out to curb effects of deep sea pollution, warns UN

· Pace of change outstrips conservation efforts · Water temperature rises as alkalinity falls

David Adam,
environment correspondent
Saturday June 17, 2006
The Guardian

//www.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,1799872,00.html

Damage to the once pristine habitats of the deep oceans by pollution, litter and overfishing is running out of control, the United Nations warned yesterday. In a report that indicates that time is running out to save them, the UN said humankind's exploitation of the the deep seas and oceans was "rapidly passing the point of no return".

Last year some 85 million tonnes of wild fish were pulled from the global oceans, 100 million sharks and related species were butchered for their fins, some 250,000 turtles became tangled in fishing gear, and 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, were killed by illegal longline fishing.

Article continues Into the water in their place went three billion individual pieces of litter - about eight million a day - joining the 46,000 pieces of discarded plastic that currently float on every square mile of ocean and kill another million seabirds each year. The water temperature rose and its alkalinity fell - both the result of climate change. Coral barriers off Australia and Belize are dying and newly discovered reefs in the Atlantic have already been destroyed by bottom trawling.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN's environment programme, said: "Humankind's ability to exploit the deep oceans and high seas has accelerated rapidly over recent years. It is a pace of change that has outstripped our institutions and conservation efforts."

Mining, for example, could soon spread to the sea floor for the first time. The Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to dig for deposits of gold and copper off Papua New Guinea.

More than 90% of the world's living organisms are found in the oceans, but a new UN report says that researchers are only now beginning to understand the nature of their ecosystems."Today, these environments are considered to have been the very cradle for life on Earth."

Yesterday's warning from the UN came as officials and experts met in New York to discuss ways the international community could better police activities in international waters.

Mr Steiner said: "Well over 60% of the marine world and its rich biodiversity is found beyond the limits of national jurisdiction and is vulnerable and at increasing risk. Governments must urgently develop guidelines, rules and actions needed to bridge this gulf."

The UN says countries need to manage oceans along ecological boundaries rather than political borders. It says more research is needed to investigate the 90% of the oceans that remain unexplored. It also calls for greater protection for vulnerable species such as cod, marlin and swordfish, which have lost 90% of their global stocks over the last century.

Kristina Gjerde, high seas policy adviser with the International Conservation Union's global marine programme, who wrote the new report, said: "Once limited largely to shipping and open ocean fishing, commercial activities at sea are expanding rapidly and plunging ever deeper." She said the effects of climate change made conservation efforts more important.


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