From the UN to space, why the Ocean Is Everybody’s Business

I was honoured to be among the many business people at the first ever United Nations Ocean conference on World Oceans Day. I was lucky to offer my own thoughts on why the Ocean Is Everybody’s Business inside the General Assembly, and wanted to share those words with you here too.

It is one of my life-long dreams to go to space – to see the Earth, our small blue dot, from above, and fully appreciate just how tiny, finite, and precious our planet is. I’ve invited Professor Stephen Hawking to come on board with me when I go, so I’ll have someone to explain the universe to me. But I'm not motivated to go into space to escape any ecological – or even political – catastrophe here on Earth. We couldn’t ask for a better place to live. Let’s face it; Mars and the Moon are not very hospitable places. But it is up to us to take better care of Earth – and that means all of it, the land and the ocean: the blue in our beautiful blue planet.
The reality is that most of our own planet is even less familiar to us than some other places in the solar system. Twelve people have walked on the Moon; just three have been to the depths of the Marianas Trench. What we do know is that vast expanses of the Earth are entirely unlike the world we know, lying in perpetual darkness, never feeling the warmth or light of the sun, covered by ocean with an average depth over 3,000 metres. Jacques Cousteau called these mysterious, watery depths the “Silent World,” a completely alien landscape to most people, but one that today we know is full of sound, is vital to all our lives, and to the very survival of our species and the future habitability of our planet.

The ocean covers more than 70 per cent of the surface of the Earth, and holds about 97 per cent of its water, yet the ocean’s ecosystems are probably the least understood, most biologically diverse, and most undervalued of all of Earth’s ecosystems. The ocean gives us oxygen, food and joy; we give it plastic, saturate it with carbon, and relentlessly extract the life out of it. I am not going to repeat all the terrible things we have been doing to the ocean because our job is clear: to unite to revive it.
I truly believe that the Ocean is Everybody’s Business. Whatever industry we work in, we must not only minimise the negative impacts of our actions on the ocean, but also take positive steps, and build strong partnerships, to help heal it. All our companies can contribute to the global mission of bringing the ocean back to health. The days of exploiting first and considering the consequences later, must well and truly end.

Thanks to the information provided by satellites and our friends in the space sector, we can see with our own eyes the dramatic changes in Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, rising sea temperatures and shifting weather patterns. A healthy ocean is our most important ally in the fight against the impacts of climate change, but it is also one of its victims: becoming more acidic, warmer, and a threat to the small islands and vulnerable coastal areas of our world.
Luckily, the ocean has an amazing ability to regenerate itself and we can help it. Our story this week must be one of hope. That’s the essence of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hope for a better world. And a real, strong and shared commitment to achieving it. SDG 14 provides a specific set of targets. But in some cases, we must go further. Protecting 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020, should be seen as a step towards fully protecting 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030. That’s what scientists have declared vital to giving the ocean, and the life within it, space to recover, to replenish, and to build resilience. Why would we settle for less?

And the new, binding treaty for high seas biodiversity can – to borrow a phrase – be the next “giant leap for humankind”. It may make it possible to create MPAs on the high seas, and protect their resources for the shared benefit of all. I urge the people charged with negotiating this Treaty to be bold, to give this Treaty teeth and vision, and make it a game-changing “Paris Agreement” for the ocean.

While this gathering might be a tiny blip in the history of our planet – our task is to make it the World Oceans Day when we change our destiny. When we refuse to allow the legacy of this generation of leaders, business people and citizens to be that we allowed the tragic decline of the ocean to happen right before our eyes – and, worse, aided and abetted its demise. Because, that is not the story I want to tell my grandchildren.

We know what needs to be done and the experts tell us that we still have time to make a difference. Whether it be the simple action of giving up single use plastic; or countries legislating to support ocean and coastal resilience; or communities educating themselves on sustainable fishing practices; or industry committing to protect the high seas. 
We all hold the key to unlocking the positive change that is needed. Right now. We have the opportunity. We know what the solutions are. We even have the technology. Let’s get to work to meet and exceed the targets of the SDG for the ocean, for our planet, and all of its people. Head over to Ocean Unite to find out more.


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