The High Cost of Ocean Decline

SANTIAGO – The world’s oceans are in trouble. In late September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the oceans are warming, seawater is acidifying, and oxygen concentrations are dropping. Last week, another initiative, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, outlined the toll that these and other factors, such as destructive fishing and pollution, are having on marine life.

Ocean degradation is not as visible as deforestation, but it is at least as dangerous. The oceans provide at least half of the oxygen we breathe. They absorb more carbon dioxide than forests do. Harm to the oceans can have a tremendous global impact.

Degradation is particularly serious in the one substantial part of the world that is governed internationally – the high seas. These waters are outside maritime states’ exclusive economic zones; they comprise two-thirds of the oceans’ area, covering fully 45% of the earth’s surface.

The Global Ocean Commission, an independent initiative that I joined earlier this year, is reviewing the condition of the high seas. Next year, it will produce a set of recommendations concerning how to restore our oceans to full health and ecological productivity.