As the first in our series of ocean-themed content, we share a guest blog from the CEO of Dynamic Planet, Kristin Rechberger.

The sea, the great unifier, is man's only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.

-Jacques Yves Cousteau

Many of us have had that invigorating feeling of traveling on land and finally reaching its edge: at the ocean. We take in the salty air and expansive view, fulfilling a deep visceral connection to our seas. Life began in the ocean. The ocean remains home to the majority of Earth's plants and animals, from tiny single-celled organisms at the base of the food chain to the blue whale, our planet’s largest living animal at 30 metres.

Image by Enric Sala/National Geographic

If you were an alien landing on Earth, you would have about a 60% chance of landing out of sight of land. But for the 50% of us on the planet who live inland and not within 100 km of the coast, we’re all closer to the ocean than we realise. The oceans provide us more than half the oxygen we breathe. It regulates the climate, absorbs a quarter of the carbon that we put into the atmosphere every year, provides livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, and contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy. About 14% of the world’s protein consumption comes from fish, with over one billion people relying on fish as their main source of animal protein.

The surface of the ocean is so vast than it could fit 36 United States in it. Speaking of the US, one out of six jobs is marine-related and the ocean economy contributes over $223 billion annually to the GDP. Like so many countries, large and small, the US is greatly ocean-dependent. For Small Island Developing States, fisheries account for 10% of GDP and over 50% of exports for some islands. Of course tourism is also a dominant economic activity and largest source of foreign exchange in these places.

Since humans began to explore and expand, we have lived off the ocean’s bounty. But we haven’t been as kind to the ocean as the ocean has been to us. We’ve taken fish out faster than they can reproduce, and dumped in what we don’t want. Centuries of abuse have taken a toll. 

Human activities impact nearly all parts of the ocean, no matter how deep or distant. Over 90% of the largest predatory fishes (sharks, groupers, tuna) are gone. Approximately 87% of fish stocks are fully exploited or over-exploited. Nutrient runoff and pollution from sources on land have created oxygen-starved dead zones inhospitable to most forms of marine life. Climate change is driving up ocean temperatures and leading to ocean acidification.

Declining ocean health jeopardises the well-being and livelihoods of coastal communities around the globe – as well as hundreds of millions of jobs that rely on ocean-related industries like tourism, fishing, shipping and biotechnology.

This all sounds like horrible news, right? Well, it is. But blanketing 72% of our blue planet, our oceans are teeming with opportunity. With a growing human population, set to rise to over nine billion by 2050, these pressures and impacts will intensify unless the world becomes smarter about managing these essential resources. 

As entrepreneurs know, where there’s inefficiency, there’s opportunity.

Image by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Marine Photobank.

There are three main ways that entrepreneurs can make a huge difference for the world’s ocean, people, and economy:

1. Improve practices to make them sustainable

Aquaculture already provides the world with 50% of its fish but most current practices are unsustainable; there is much room for improvement. Agricultural productivity has taken a toll in our waters: for the EU alone, excess nitrogen costs €320 billion in aquatic damage per year. Scientific and technological advances will allow more profitable output with less environmental impact. Most important, we can improve how we value the ocean’s natural capital and include all of the goods and services provided by our ocean in business and economic planning.

2. Protect and enforce areas of our ocean

While 12% of our land is protected in national parks and nature reserves, only 1% of our oceans are ‘no-take’ zones. Forward-looking governments are creating more ‘national parks in the sea’, and businesses can help with enforcement through better integrated monitoring and surveillance. Protected areas create sustainable tourism opportunities and marine life spillover outside reserve boundaries, which helps local fisheries.

3. Innovate to harness the true wealth of the oceans

By applying best practices from other sectors and strong public-private partnerships, the oceans could do even more for us with a lighter footprint.  Innovations include off-shore wind, tidal and wave energy and biotechnology. Also, with every smartphone is an opportunity for many more people to be connected to the oceans. Wouldn’t it be great if, sitting in a restaurant you could scan the fish you’re about to eat and know the route it took to get there? 

If you’re not an entrepreneur, you can still help. For those serving in government, all of the above require entrepreneurial approaches including grants, subsidies, and tax credits to encourage private sector sustainable practices, marine planning to promote synergies across sectors, and smarter, integrated regulatory frameworks for better governance. And if you’re neither an entrepreneur nor a government worker, here are 10 things you can do to help shift ocean degradation to stronger sustainability.

With the right combination of improvements, protection, and innovation related to our ocean, we can decrease environmental risks and create sustainable jobs, lasting economic value, and increased social equity. What’s good for the oceans is good for us. It’s enlightened self-interest.

When else do we have the opportunity to vastly improve three-quarters of our planet – and all of life including humanity that depends on it?

-This is a guest blog by Kristin Rechberger. Kristin is CEO of Dynamic Planet, a company focused on natural capital investments, environmental storytelling, and leadership engagement – so that people and nature can both thrive. Areas of work include wilderness protection on land and in the sea, sustainable tourism, food-energy-water security, and market transformation through sustainable sourcing and consumption.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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