Let’s embrace a new narrative for the ocean

Even though the world ocean is beset from every angle by serious threats – from overfishing to pollution, and from habitat loss to climate-driven warming and acidification – our ocean remains an essential life support system for planet Earth. Not only do more than three billion people depend upon the sea as an essential source of protein for their diet, but nearly 1.4 billion of them risk serious health consequences should they lose existing access to fish and other marine products. Recent science has made plain that if current threats continue, the chance for a more stable future becomes increasingly difficult for people and nature together.

Now, two of the world’s leading ocean experts, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Dr. Steve Gaines have issued a clear call for change in the new edition of Science. For all who care about the future of the sea – and therefore humanity – Drs. Lubchenco and Gaines call on us to band together to ensure that the world ocean retains its vibrancy and potential, despite this uncertain future.

These two visionaries ask us all to reject the past myth of ocean invulnerability – to admit and understand the risks – but also to refuse to accept the increasingly prevalent “doom-and-gloom” narrative that could also doom the ocean and the planet. Lubchenco and Gaines’ new paradigm for the sea requires us all to embrace the opportunities that new solutions present, and to rally together to insist upon their implementation.

The truly good news is that solutions are at hand for most of the major problems facing the ocean, including overfishing – which is among the biggest threats today. We know from examples around the world that well-designed, rights-based fisheries management can turn fisheries around, and that doing the same across the globe could reverse the collapse of fisheries. We also know that these approaches – developed in partnership with fishers and fishing communities – can overcome most of the negative impacts of climate warming and chart a new course for global fisheries.

Effective management can be accelerated by properly designed networks of marine protected areas (MPAs), properly combined with well-managed fisheries, as is already underway now throughout the national waters of Belize. Additionally, new technological approaches – coupled with effective fisheries management and governance – can drastically curtail illegal fishing.

In the longer term, these new tools will have to be upgraded and customized to adequately address the impacts of climate change and ensure that people all over the planet can continue to find the fish they need to stay healthy.

But for now, there is every reason for each and every one of us to warmly embrace the new manifesto that Drs. Lubchenco and Gaines have presented and enlist in a new legion of “oceaneers” committed to making their vision a reality, for people and nature together. We can afford to do no less.

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