Originally published in the Huffington Post Green Blog: 12/30/12
The ocean is enormous, supporting a vast array of life while providing food, fuel, recreation, and spiritual rejuvenation. But efforts to conserve the ocean, though valiant, are meager compared to the scale of the threats to the ocean. Ocean conservation advocates have achieved many notable successes, such as dramatic reductions in certain kinds of pollution, the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and major improvements in fishery management in some areas of the world. However, a recent analysis that EDF participated in suggests that 40% of the ocean is still strongly impacted by a range of threats, including shipping, the modification of rivers and estuaries, coastal development, pollution, and overfishing. How can we scale conservation efforts up to match the ocean's vastness and the severity of these threats?
To answer this question, we must first accurately diagnose the problem. Conventional markets, which drive so much of mass human behavior, only value a few of the many goods and services that the ocean provides, like fish and oil. The critically important ocean processes that produce fish, regulate the climate, assimilate wastes, and provide all of the other goods and services on which the diversity of ocean life and we humans depend are generally not valued by markets. Because markets see value only in parts of the ocean, and not in the whole, the valuable pieces are extracted and the rest is degraded.
Conservation has been pushing back against market forces, among the most powerful forces in the world, in the form of regulation. While regulations like water quality standards and MPAs can be very effective, they often depend on high levels of enforcement because they are working against market forces and the incentives to exploit valuable resources without stewarding the ecosystems that support them. Regulations in this context are often perceived as threats to livelihood and human welfare, resulting in opposition and conflict. It is not surprising that it typically takes many years and sometimes decades to get ocean conservation measures in place. Read More