In a world where COVID-19 is defining “new normals” for how we interact with each other, World Oceans Month, which kicked off June 8, reminds us that we remain very much connected even in this time of social distancing.
The massive ocean system encircling the planet has always been blind to place, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, culture, lifestyle, experience, interests, identity, abilities and faith.
This year’s World Oceans Month is particularly noteworthy because there’s unprecedented urgency for us to find a way to live sustainably on our ocean planet.
The United Nations has named this the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to encourage work toward 17 sustainable development goals by 2030. The effort aims to bring about six overarching goals, including: a cleaner ocean; a healthy and resilient ocean; a predicted ocean; a safe ocean; a sustainably harvested ocean; and a transparent and accessible ocean.
The recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate highlights the consequences of human-induced climate change in the most remote regions of the planet as “sweeping and severe” and speaks to “the urgency of timely, ambitious, coordinated, and enduring actions.”
Climate-driven disasters, such as unprecedented flooding in Venice, the global decline of coral reefs and Hurricane Dorian’s devastating below to the Bahamas, highlight the connections between land and the ocean.
The issues are ever more complex; the scope and scales are immense and ever changing; and the science is continually evolving. By 2025, there may be one pound of plastics for every three pounds of fish in the ocean unless major changes are made in the production and management of single use plastics.
We need a better understanding not only of our own environment but also how our environment affects us individually.
Global sustainability cannot be achieved without building capacity for ocean literacy at all levels, and we need to shift our perceptions about what it means to be “green” or concerned about the environment. By 2030, being “green” should be considered something that is normal on a global level.
As we enter this new decade on a wave of urgency, we should be encouraged that ocean literacy and climate literacy are included in high level reports and that the new UN IOC Draft Strategy for Ocean Literacy for the Decade aims to advance important policies to get there.
It is imperative that there is a clearer understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean, and that this better understanding ultimately affects our personal choices. Ocean literacy must be urgently embraced, consistently funded, and easily accessible to everyone.
In a world of “new normals,” what are the most effective ways forward? The answers are complex but begin with being smart about how we work together.
Only then can we foster conversations that will lead to developing new approaches, initiatives, and policies in support of understanding our ocean at the most fundamental level, knowing full well that one size will not fit all.
We must continue to gently, and yes urgently, push forward together because we have one Earth, one ocean, one life and one shared responsibility to protect something that is not our own — a shared heritage for one sustainable world ocean.
Peter Thomson, U.N. Special Envoy for the Oceans, said, “It’s not about the U.N., it’s not about governments, it’s not about civil society or the private sector or the scientific community. It’s about all of us in this together.”
Paula Keener is a Charleston resident and retired from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. She is principal and owner of Global Visions.