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World Oceans Day 2024

Multiple benefits for people and the planet of the shared seas approach

Image provided by UNEP

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema

UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNEP Deputy Executive Director

Over 8 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year while many industries continue using the ocean as a dumping ground for chemical and radioactive waste, trash and sewer sludge.

Growing up in Tanzania, the ocean felt as vast as the eye could see. It seemed both omnipotent and omnipresent. Our language, Kiswahili, was developed thanks to the ocean, which brought Arabian traders to East Africa’s coasts. The ocean is key to Tanzania’s economy.

Globalisation’s impact on ocean ecology

Yet, one glance at the Indian Ocean’s plastic-infested beaches today reflects how globalisation has degraded the state of the world’s oceans. The ocean has become part of a tragedy of the commons: individual corporations and governments reaping benefits from marine resources while their pollution and biodiversity loss affect oceans beyond national jurisdiction.

The ocean has become part
of a tragedy of the commons.

Programme to protect oceans and foster cooperation

In parallel to rapid accruement of ecological damage, the international community began prioritising environmental protection. In 1974, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme was set up to defend the ocean through regional cooperation, reflecting the ‘shared seas’ approach.

With 18 conventions and action plans and 146 coastal countries engaged, the programme provides a degree of protection to the world’s oceans. The programme now focuses on protecting the biodiversity within the marine and coastal ecosystems.

Thanks to the programme, international coordination, knowledge-sharing and preparedness for disasters have contributed to reducing oil spills and their impact since the 1970s, a drop in beach litter in the Mediterranean, more marine protected areas and seabed protection. Advancing action for the ocean — implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework or the historic ‘high seas’ treaty signed last year, or negotiating a global treaty to end plastic marine pollution — has never been more urgent.

Shared seas approach for ocean preservation

We can’t tackle the triple crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution without a healthy ocean. In Kiswahili, we sometimes say ‘Bahari haivukwi kwa kuogelea’ or ‘The ocean is not crossed by swimming’ to show that having the right tools for a task is essential. When it comes to our oceans, a shared seas approach is essential for protection and restoration.

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