What is the cost of the ocean?

The potential for food security and adding value to the living resources in the ocean seems endless. Today, more than 100 million tons of algae, fish, crabs and other organisms are already caught or cultivated in the sea every year, and more than 3 billion people obtain at least 20% of their animal protein requirements from fish.

The 2020 edition of FAO’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture very powerfully demonstrates the significant and growing role of fisheries and aquaculture in providing food, nutrition and employment(view report as PDF). This state report also shows the major challenges ahead, despite progress made on several fronts. For example, in addition to alarming overexploitation rates, there is increasing hopeful evidence that stocks are above target or being rebuilt if fisheries are properly managed. More decisive action would give more credibility to fisheries managers and governments around the world. The report clearly shows that the successes achieved in some countries and regions have not been enough to reverse the overall global trend of overfished stocks. New mechanisms are also needed to support the effective implementation of sustainable fisheries and ecosystem policies and management regulations to ensure that fisheries around the world are sustainable.

Because we need even more sea for the future, because the world population will increase to almost 10 billion people by 2050. The potential value created from living marine resources that are not used for food is also substantial: the value of previously undiscovered chemical compounds used to treat cancer drugs alone is estimated at 400 billion to 4 trillion euros(view PDF “Sustainability in Actionworld Fisheries ans Aquaculture”). Even greater drivers of innovation and value lie dormant in other, life-related areas: Food supplements from microalgae, natural cosmetics with kelp, enzymes for the production of textile dyes, cultivation of cartilage cells with jellyfish collagen, antimicrobial coatings on hip prostheses and energy generation with hydrogen from algae.

So far, so good.

The catch is that people are miles away from making clever use of this potential. After all, how could a spring that is both a cesspool and humanity’s largest waste receptacle ever be a reliable supplier of clean food and medicine? How can we make use of marine ecosystems and their “services” when humans are actively engaged in the extinction of species, many, if not most, of which are not even known(http://www.coml.org/pressreleases/whatlives10/CoML_WhatLivesInTheSea_Public.pdf)? We could be much more optimistic about the future and expect greater prosperity if we did not pollute the oceans with oil, radioactive and plastic waste. In addition, there are many pressures whose consequences cannot be assessed today, such as deep-sea mining, the increased growth of pathogenic germs in organically contaminated sediments, and the release of methane and other climate-relevant gases due to a change in temperature and pH. In each case, these influences affect the value of biological resources and their potential for use.

Irreversible reality is neither intelligent, anticipatory use, nor absolute destruction of the oceans. However, we are already at a crossroads. The ethical, legal and political principles for the better way have already been worked out in the past decades, e.g. the precautionary principle (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=COM:2000:0001:FIN) and the principle of the “common heritage of mankind,” which was promoted above all by the Maltese diplomat Arvid Pardo and the law of the sea expert Elisabeth Mann Borgese, idea generator for a new world order and founder of the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982). So we have already agreed on the direction. There are also already concrete targets and action plans using the knowledge currently available. Here, the so-called “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDG) stand out in terms of their importance and topicality(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs). These are goals of the United Nations to ensure sustainable development on an economic, social as well as ecological basis. They entered into force on January 1, 2016, with a term of 15 years (until 2030). One goal (SDG 14) is explicitly dedicated to oceans and their sustainable use(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg14). The urgent task now is to implement these goals nationally and internationally through politics, administration and education. Not only because the sea creates wealth, but also because it is simply beautiful.

This post is also available in: German