Environmental Initiatives

Media Inquiries

If you are a journalist and would like additional information, please visit the Media Contacts page.

Media Contacts

Subscribe to News Feeds

Pew offers news delivered to your desktop via RSS feed. Subscribing is easy. To learn more or get started, follow the link below.

Subscribe to News Feeds

For The Record

When Pew’s work is questioned or criticized we respond through letters to the editor or op-eds.

Read Pew's Responses

Ocean Life in the Balance: Will Science Overcome Politics at Rio+20 Conference?

Opinion
  • Feb. 13, 2012

Author(s)

Susan Lieberman

Author(s) Description

Director, International Policy

"With the knowledge we now possess about modern society's impact on the ocean, there is no excuse for inaction."

-Susan Lieberman, director of International Policy

The United Nations has sought to promote the "peaceful use of the seas and ocean, the equitable utilization of their resources, and the study, protection, and preservation of the marine environment," for decades. The world, however, still has a long way to go in living up to these grand ideals. Today, there is renewed hope that the promise of stronger international stewardship of our ocean will be translated into action. It's been a long time coming.

The Rio Legacy

In the summer of 1992, governments met in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Environment and Development to discuss some of the globe's most pressing conservation problems. Known as the "Earth Summit," the talks brought together 108 heads of State and representatives from 172 countries, attracted headlines around the world, and resulted in several subsequent agreements. Unfortunately, the ocean was only an afterthought in these discussions. I had just started working on international wildlife policy for the U.S. government the previous year, and I don't recall any discussions on the ocean or marine biodiversity.

This June, global political leaders will convene again in Rio, for the Earth Summit's 20th anniversary. The conference's overall objective is to explore the ongoing challenge of sustainably and equitably managing our planet's finite natural resources.

Delegates will also evaluate progress toward achieving sustainable development commitments from the previous meeting. Although the ocean received scant attention in 1992, concern from conservationists and countries around the globe has enabled its inclusion on the agenda for this year's Earth Summit.

Learn More:

A World of Difference

Our scientific understanding of how the planet works has clearly evolved in ways that could not have been imagined 20 years ago. Numerous studies have since been published cataloging the precarious state of ocean biodiversity across an array of scientific disciplines. Yet, marine conservation issues are still often either neglected or relegated to second-tier status by the international community.

The ocean, which covers 70 percent of the Earth's surface, is the largest reservoir of biodiversity in the world. It is under extreme pressure and is being degraded at an alarming rate. According to the UN's most recent "State of the World's Fisheries and Aquaculture" report, 85 percent of fish stocks are "fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion" -- the highest ever recorded.

Meanwhile, on the high seas -- waters beyond national jurisdiction -- no one is in charge. While there have been modest improvements in this area over the years, ocean resources are dramatically overexploited today. This includes unsustainable and destructive practices, such as bottom trawling and shark finning, which have been scientifically documented in numerous studies. Illegal fishing and an overall lack of governance and accountability further compound these problems.

Coral

Setting the Stage for Success

It is promising that the ocean has been selected as one of the seven priorities for the upcoming summit. Indeed, the draft negotiating text released in early January includes a number of positive marine proposals, which could lead to new international policies to protect severely depleted ocean life.

One of these proposals is to start the process to create an unprecedented, strong global commitment to safeguarding our world's ocean. This includes setting in motion negotiations for a new international agreement to protect and conserve biodiversity on the high seas. Steps at the Rio summit to enable the establishment of additional marine protected areas and reserves, and to ensure sustainable fisheries, would demonstrate the necessary political will to address current failings and better manage activities that adversely impact the ocean.

Science + Action = A Formula for Progress in Rio

Last October, the world's population reached 7 billion. It is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, and as humanity's numbers continue rising, our dependence on the ocean, both as a source of nourishment and commerce, will only increase.

There is currently a huge mismatch between political will, scientific information, and global conservation imperatives. The challenges are vast, but unlike previous generations, we have an advantageWe understand the consequences of our activities better and know what needs to happen.

With the knowledge we now possess about modern society's impact on the ocean, there is no excuse for inaction. Leaders this June in Rio can and must build upon advances in modern science to help end the ongoing mismanagement of the high seas.

The ecological health and economic productivity of the ocean is currently in decline, but this can be reversed. By acting now we can prevent the current "tragedy of the commons" though the intelligent and judicious use of science to help build political will. The conversations that did not happen two decades ago need to take place, and be turned into action -- the world does not have another 20 years to wait.

Learn more on an interactive timeline highlighting major international commitments, world population statistics and global fish stock assessments:

 

Related News and Resources

  • Pew Praises Ratification of Treaty to Fight Illegal Fishing Worldwide

    • Press Release
    • Apr 03, 2014
    The United States Senate on April 3 took a strong stand in the global fight against illegal fishing by ratifying a treaty that will prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market through ports around the world. The treaty, called the Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, also would empower port officials to prohibit foreign vessels that are suspected of illegal activity from receiving port services and access. By cutting off market access for illegally caught fish, the treaty will erode the profit incentive that drives the activity.

    More

  • U.N. Secretary-General Calls for Support for Ocean Protection

    • Other Resource
    • Apr 02, 2014
    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement today supporting reversal of the degradation of the marine environment and calling attention to an important series of U.N. meetings aimed at protecting high seas biodiversity

    More

  • Protecting the High Seas From Peril

    • Other Resource
    • Apr 01, 2014
    All the activity in the open ocean raises questions about who is monitoring and managing the ocean’s long-term health. As of now, the job is vacant, which is why delegates from around the world are at the United Nations in New York City this week.

    More

  • Climate Change Taking Toll on the Ocean

    • Other Resource
    • Mar 31, 2014
    A United Nations panel released its latest assessment of the impact of climate change on the world’s environment, focusing on issues such as food supply and economic security.

    More

  • Pew Talks High Seas Governance at World Ocean Summit

    • Other Resource
    • Mar 27, 2014
    Three hundred global leaders from government, business, philanthropy, academia, and nongovernmental organizations gathered in Half Moon Bay, CA, in late February to discuss how best to protect our global ocean and its resources.

    More

  • EU Bans Fish Imports from 3 Countries

    • Press Release
    • Mar 24, 2014
    Today the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and WWF welcome a decision by the European Union Fisheries Council, comprising all 28 fisheries ministers, to ban the importation of fish from Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea for their failure to cooperate in fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing.

    More

  • Documentary on Illegal Fishing to Premiere at D.C. Environmental Film Fest

    • Other Resource
    • Mar 17, 2014
    For decades, the azure waters of the Indian Ocean have served as a virtual safe house for fishermen engaged in large-scale illegal operations. These suspected criminals have roamed the waters off East Africa, helping themselves to a valuable natural resource with little regard for fishing laws. Throughout the developing world, but especially in Africa, illegal fishing has wreaked widespread economic, environmental, and social harm, accounting for a global catch worth up to $23.5 billion annually.

    More

  • Pew Awards Shark Scientist Demian Chapman the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Conservation

    • Press Release
    • Mar 12, 2014
    Demian Chapman, Ph.D., a scientist with Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, has been awarded a 2014 Pew fellowship in marine conservation for a new research project to determine how recently enacted international regulations affect the trade in the fins of protected shark species. Sharks have been heavily fished to supply the international fin trade, depriving marine ecosystems of some of their most important top predators and endangering species dependent on them.

    More

  • Pew Awards Scientist Hoyt Peckham the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Conservation

    • Press Release
    • Mar 12, 2014
    Hoyt Peckham, Ph.D., a pioneer of incentivizing artisanal fishing to advance marine stewardship based in La Paz, México, has been awarded a 2014 Pew fellowship in marine conservation to expand on his work on incentivizing sustainable fishing along the coast of Northwest Mexico to other communities in the region and around the world. Peckham is working with local fishers and their cooperatives to restore value in their fisheries, reinforcing their sustainability practices by increasing demand for their seafood.

    More

  • Pew Awards Malaysian Mammal Scientist the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Conservation

    • Press Release
    • Mar 12, 2014
    Louisa Shobhini Ponnampalam, Ph.D., a scientist with the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and co-founder of grassroots NGO, The MareCet Research Organization, has been awarded a 2014 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to conduct new research on the country’s population of dugongs, a large coastal marine mammal that resembles the manatee.

    More

  • Pew Awards Chilean Scientist Stefan Gelcich the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Conservation

    • Press Release
    • Mar 12, 2014
    Stefan Gelcich, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile has been awarded a 2014 Pew fellowship in marine conservation for a new project that will examine the social and ecological incentives that enable territorial fishing within no-take zones along the Chilean coast. He will explore this mix of marine protected areas and territorial user rights fisheries, known as TURFs, as a strategy for the long-term preservation of ocean resources and sustainability.

    More

  • U.S. Senate Panel Advances Agreements to Fight Illegal Fishing

    • Other Resource
    • Mar 11, 2014
    The Foreign Relations Committee approved four fisheries agreements, including the Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, which would strengthen inspections and controls in ports worldwide.

    More

  • Flame Retardant Penguins?

    • Other Resource
    • Feb 26, 2014
    Antarctica and the Southern Ocean that surrounds it are considered to be among the last pristine places in the world. But new research shows that some of the continent’s birds and fish are being contaminated by a pollutant normally found in metropolitan rivers.

    More

  • Pacific Countries Prepare to Enforce Historic Shark Protections

    • Other Resource
    • Feb 04, 2014
    In seven months, more than 170 countries will start enforcing trade protections to help save several shark species from extinction. Next week, preparation in the Pacific region begins in earnest.

    More

  • Arctic Standards: Recommendations on Oil Spill Prevention, Response, and Safety in the U.S. Arctic Ocean

    • Other Resource
    • Jan 28, 2014
    The Pew Charitable Trusts is not opposed to offshore drilling, but a balance must be achieved between responsible energy development and protection of the environment. World-leading Arctic standards should be put in place for safety and for oil spill prevention and response in this extreme, remote, and vulnerable ecosystem.

    More

See more...

X
Sign In

Member Sign In

Forgot Password?
Submit Not a Member? Join!
X

Forgot Password?

Send Password Not a Member? Join!
X

Change Password

X
(All Fields are required)
Send Message
Share this on: