Oceans, the Lifeblood of the Planet

Another lovely, provocative day at the SLOWLIFE Symposium in the Maldives, as reported by its team:

Surrounded by the deep blue of the Indian Ocean, the fate of the world’s seas has been a central topic for speakers here at the SLOWLIFE Symposium in the Maldives. Friday morning’s panel session ‘The lifeblood of the planet – preserving ocean biodiversity’ brought together four people who are passionate about this theme: chairing was Chris Gorrell Barnes, of Blue Marine Foundation; joining him was Fabien Cousteau; Jon Bowermaster, the writer and explorer; and the actress and environmentalist Daryl Hannah.

Jon Bowermaster, Daryl Hannah, Fabien Cousteau, Chris Gorell-Barnes

Chris opened by setting the scene, reminding us that as 70% of the Earth is ocean, we are an ocean planet more than a terrestrial one – and yet the oceans are in crisis. It is true also that a majority of the world’s population lives near the coastline: 17 megacities are located on the coast, so what happens to the sea directly impacts two thirds of the people on Earth, and ultimately all of us.

Jon reported that having travelled by sea kayak to a number of continents – on one trip paddling from, for example, the Aleutian Islands to Vietnam – several issues kept coming up over and over again. The first was climate change, with the associated impacts of more frequent and stronger storms, sea level rise, and a rising of sea surface temperature. The second was plastic pollution, which is now evident in remote places and faraway islands, and the third is overfishing, which is dramatically impacting the whole global ocean.

Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the great oceans exploration pioneer Jacques Cousteau (who would have been a hundred last year) spoke about how the seas have changed in just three generations of his own family, with 60% of the world’s total fish stocks destroyed since the 1950s. But Fabien is far from despondent, citing an example of a successful project in El Salvador which recruited local people – who had previously made a living by taking and selling the eggs of endangered turtles – to protect the hatchlings instead, transforming a 0% survival rate to 1.6 million turtle hatchlings in the space of a year.

Daryl Hannah praised the Maldives government for banning shark fishing, an unsustainable practice which is destroying these great ocean predators, with shark finning still responsible for the destruction of 200,000 sharks per year. She also pointed out how just one year after the ban, sharks were already seeming to become more numerous – a point noted by many in the audience, who have been entranced by the sight of as many as a dozen juvenile black-tip reef sharks circling in the shallow waters under the main Soneva Fushi jetty.

One of the issues being tackled at the moment is how to protect the newly-created Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the region in which Soneva Fushi – the host for the SLOWLIFE Symposium – is located. Blue Marine Foundation has already made a donation, whilst resorts are now cooperating to raise further funds to recruit rangers from the local fishing population. Maldives Vice-President Dr Waheed, who was also in the audience, spoke about how most Maldivian schoolchildren had never seen a coral reef, simply because they did not have access to snorkelling equipment – and how simply providing masks and snorkels to schools could do much to promote awareness of marine biodiversity amongst the next generation of Maldivians.

The broad consensus was that for the depletion of marine biodiversity to be reversed, both the fishing and tourist industries have to be engaged in driving forward innovative solutions – in the Maldives and further afield. Both these economic sectors in the Maldives depend entirely on the bounty of the sea – whether hooking and canning tuna for the overseas export trade, or reef fish for tourists to see on a dive or a snorkelling trip – and both must surely work together to protect the seas for today and for future generations.
This entry was posted in Blog Highlight, Highlight and tagged blue marine foundation, chris gorell barnes, climate change, Fabien Cousteau, Jon Bowermaster, Maldives, marine conservation, oceans, Six Senses Laamu, SLOW LIFE Symposium by slowlife. Bookmark the permalink.

Posted in Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, Ocean Pollution, Plastic pollution, SLOWLIFE Symposium, Uncategorized

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