By Julia Goss, DC EcoWomen board member
Sitting in a brightly lit conference room amid other professionals in the ocean conservation field, the speaker for our communications training presented the research. “The data shows 83 percent of people polled favor strengthening efforts to protect the ocean” he stated.
Finding something people can agree on is, sadly, almost impossible these days. I left the training feeling a little bit lighter and motivated to continue advocating on behalf of our ocean habitats and marine wildlife. That was, until I checked Twitter a couple of hours later and saw the hashtag #IPBES, which stands for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The United Nations convened 145 expert authors from 50 countries, who then conducted a review of about 15,000 sources to analyze the state of the planet’s biodiversity. The report found that one million species are at risk of extinction.
Our planet is home to at least 8.7 million species – together this biodiversity provides the foundation for the oxygen we breathe, clean water we drink, and sources of nutrients that sustain us.
While the ecosystems on land do not fare any better, with World Oceans Day approaching on June 8, for now I’ll focus on these underwater ecosystems. The report found that two-thirds of these ecosystems have been “severely altered to date by human actions.”
Industrial fishing now covers 55 percent of the ocean – methods such as trawling, longlining, and gillnetting overfish vulnerable species and indiscriminately kill wildlife such as whales, dolphins, sea birds, and sharks. More than half of the world’s coral reefs have died since the 1870s. Runoff of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous have caused algal blooms, which starve the waters of oxygen, creating more than 400 dead zones, where almost no life can survive. The effects of climate change act as an umbrella over it all – melting ice, bleaching coral, and shifting species’ distribution.
While depressing, this exhaustive review of the world’s biodiversity, or lack thereof, ensures that we understand just exactly how much work needs to be done. The report concludes, “nature can be conserved, restored, and used sustainably…through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.”
It suggests actions and pathways for the major industries and issues affecting our planet such as agriculture, forestry, energy, finance, and marine and freshwater ecosystems. For example, the report highlights the importance of creating networks of marine protected areas, rebuilding overfished stocks through mechanisms such as targeted catch limits, eliminating harmful subsidies, reducing pollution, and incorporating climate impacts into fisheries management.
In October 2020, all signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet for the 15th Conference of the Parties and are expected to adopt a new 10-year global biodiversity framework with goals and targets for ocean protection. Scientists, and now policy makers, are calling for 30 percent of the ocean to be protected by 2030 to restore fisheries, build resilience to climate change, and enhance biodiversity.
What You Can Do
If this transformation is to become a reality, these targets and the efforts of those working to affect change at the international level must also align with efforts at the national and local level.
It is easy to sit back and be overwhelmed by the negative predictions (one million species!), but rather than succumb to the barrage of depressing tweets about the IPBES report, help combat this crisis and double down on what you can control.
If you’re like me, and value the vast diversity our planet sustains, try to incorporate some of these small acts into your life. I know transformative change sounds daunting but sitting back and doing nothing isn’t an option.
Strengthening our laws and policies to protect the planet will be key to achieving change. When you’re determining candidates to vote for, consider prioritizing those for whom the environment is an important part of their platform.
If there are certain issues you’re passionate about, help the organizations that are 100 percent committed to protecting coral reefs or stopping plastic from reaching the oceans. Donate money or volunteer. Funding for environmental issues is woefully lacking. By doing your research on which organizations are truly making a difference, you can play a small part in their success.
Use your dollars to also minimize your impact on the environment. To reduce your carbon footprint, consider purchasing carbon offsets each time you travel on a plane.
Buy a water filter, instead of purchasing bottled water and contributing to plastic pollution.
Use Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide to make more informed decisions about the seafood you eat.
Buy sunscreen from companies that use chemicals that won’t harm coral reefs or other ocean habitats.
Make a conscious effort to eat more plant-based dishes and forgo meat and fish when you otherwise wouldn’t.
Become an advocate – think about where you work, do you have an environmental sustainability program? Are there ways in which you think your employer could impact the environment less? Set up a meeting and see how you could create positive change in your workplace or another institution.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, but if the majority of people cares about protecting our oceans, than let’s harness that desire to create the transformative change we desperately need.
Julia Goss is a DC EcoWomen board member on the Programs Committee. She earned a B.S. in biology from Rhodes College and a Masters in Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University. Her interest in international conservation motivated her to obtain a Fulbright scholarship to work for the World Wildlife Fund in Cambodia, where she conducted research on the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin population. Julia currently works at an environmental non-profit in Washington D.C., where she first advocated for better regulation of trade in threatened species of sharks. She currently assists other nations in creating large-scale marine protected areas to safeguard critical ocean spaces and enhance the productivity of their fisheries.