Healthy oceans for better life and improved livelihoods
Dr Evangeline Njoka
Ocean and marine ecosystems are aquatic ecosystems and are the most prevalent on Earth.
They provide nearly half of the Earth’s oxygen and are home for an array of fauna and flora.
These ecosystems consist of open marine ecosystems that hosts sea life and coral reefs which are found in warm tropical waters and at shallow depths, coral reefs are among the most productive ecosystems on the planet.
They provide food and shelter for about one-quarter of marine species. In addition, mangroves, are trees that are adapted to a salty environment. Mangroves are home to a plethora of life, including sponges, shrimps, crabs, jellyfish, fish, birds and even crocodiles.
Ocean’s most important resource is fishery. In 2015, according to estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, about 600 to 820 million people worldwide depended directly or indirectly upon fisheries and about 20 per cent of humankind rely on the sea for their nutritional needs.
As old pathogens develop resistance to existing antimicrobial agents and new ones threatens humankind’s health, marine organisms provide variety of active compounds with medical potential.
The recreational value of a coastal landscape is a main driver of global tourism and a major foreign exchange earner for coastal countries. In Kenya, tourism is the second foreign exchange earner after agriculture.
The Ocean is the engine of the Earth climate system, it influences global climate through convection and thermohaline circulation.
Ocean regulation goes beyond climate, gases are regulated by the sea; the oceans and the atmosphere are permanently exchanging large volumes of gases.
On daily basis, seawater absorbs quantities of carbon dioxide equivalent to the weight of four million mid-range cars.
Since the Industrial Revolution began, the oceans have taken up around half of the total carbon dioxide (CO2) released by the burning of fossil fuels.
Without this constant CO2 uptake, the atmosphere would have been subjected to far greater warming than has occurred.
In view of the many services that oceans provide, a healthy world ocean is critical to man’s survival and there is need for a trade-off between ocean use and conservation. so that these streams of benefits can continue being realised.
As a result, efforts to exploit the full potential of the ocean as part of the blue economy are gaining traction.
The ocean has the potential to transform Kenya and help us achieve Vision 2030. In addition, prudent use of resources in a sustainable way while protecting these ecosystems will go a long way in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 14 dedicated to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.’
Oceans’ ecosystem services and resources they provide are under unprecedented threat. These threats include: Marine pollutions, plastics and heavy metals from industrial plants; intensive demand for resources such as fossil fuels, minerals and biopharmaceuticals; overfishing as a result of industrial-scale fishing, overexploitation of fish stocks and illegal fishing; habitat destruction; bioinvasion and the existential threat from climate change which is causing ocean warming, sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
In 2017, the United Nations proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021-2030. This Decade aim to provide a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the Oceans and to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Through stronger international cooperation, the Decade aims to bolster scientific research and innovative technologies and delivering science for the future we want and leaving no one behind.
As we celebrate this year’s UN World Oceans Day with the theme, “the ocean: life and livelihoods” we need to reflect on how we can leverage on the ‘Ocean decade’ and join hands with all the stakeholders towards reversing the decline in ocean health and achieve a post-pandemic recovery for a sustainable and a resilient ocean. - Writer is secretary general, Kenya National Commission for Unesco