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WORLD OCEAN DAY!

Healthy and resilient ocean crucial for stronger blue economy

A healthy world ocean is critical to man’s survival.

In Summary

•Healthy oceans translate to healthy life on earth.

•Oceans make up 70% of Earth’s surface, produces over 50% world’s oxygen needed to support animal and human life, absorbed 20-30% of Carbon dioxide generated by human activities for the last 40 years and is home to 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.

A man walks past a boat anchored at the Indian Ocean in Mombasa. /FILE
A man walks past a boat anchored at the Indian Ocean in Mombasa. /FILE

This week, June 8th was the 'World Oceans Day', a United Nations day first proposed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and officially recognized in 2008 as a way to celebrate our world’s shared ocean and marine ecosystem, in addition to raising public awareness to the centrality of oceans in people’s lives and how we can protect it and use it sustainably.

Healthy oceans translate to healthy life on earth. Oceans make up 70% of Earth’s surface, produces over 50% world’s oxygen needed to support animal and human life, absorbed 20-30% of Carbon dioxide generated by human activities for the last 40 years and is home to 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.

Ocean is a driver of the global economy and an important food source and 3 billion people are dependent on ocean for livelihood and primary source of protein. Oceans fringing vegetation (e.g. mangroves) and barrier islands moderate storm impacts cushioning the ocean adjacent communities, provides a habitat for both marine and terrestrial species and provide aesthetic enjoyment and recreation. In addition, oceans support many industries such as shipping, oil and gas, marine and coastal tourism.

With a 640 km coastal line and total ocean area of 245,000 km2 which makes up 42% of Kenya’s land mass equivalent to 31 counties, ocean and marine resources are significant to Kenya’s economy. In 2018, the blue economy value of western Indian Ocean was valued at about $22 billion, with Kenya’s share estimated to be $4.4 billion

Ocean is key enabler for the realization of most of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) besides the SDG14 which focuses on ocean and life under water. As a provider of healthy source of protein and decent jobs, oceans provide food security and support poverty reduction and promotes tourism. Ocean is central in hydrological cycle and water security and quality is reliant on a healthy and resilient ocean.

As a carbon sink and reservoir of fresh oxygen, oceans are central to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The oceans stabilize climate by taking up 90% of the excess heat produced by fossil fuel use.

World oceans are under intense pressure from human activities which is threatening their ability to provide all the critical ecosystems they provide. Pollutions are suffocating the oceans and 80% of these are generated on land by human activities.

At the current trajectory, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastics in the oceans than there are fish. Global warming is disrupting the ocean chemistry and temperature and this poses significant threat to the fragile biodiversity. Ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide concentration in the ocean has caused coral bleaching and habitat loss for marine organisms. Other threats to oceans include: Overfishing, pesticides and nutrients from agricultural activities, oil spills and air pollution.

Challenges faced by our oceans are global in nature and therefore their solutions require a global approach. That is why in December 2017, the United Nations proclaimed, 2021-2030, a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. This Decade will provide a common framework to ensure oceans will be able to withstand the pressure that will come with changing climate, growing population and multiple environmental stressors in the coming decades.

Kenya Government’s decision to ban plastic carrier bags in 2017 is very commendable and has yielded very positive results. Our water ways are now clearer, the food chain cleaner and free of plastics and ocean, which previously have been chocked by plastic pollution can now breathe.

The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day was “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”. Like in other sectors of economy, blue economy can benefit greatly from innovation and emerging technologies that comes with Fourth Industrial revolution.

Ocean innovation opportunities are vast, plastic recycling will not only yield cleaner oceans but can also promote a circular economy which will reduce resource and energy consumption. In addition, 3-D printing can help in converting recycled plastics into very useful products such as high quality shoes. Block chain technology can track fish from ocean to a consumer’s dinner plate; this can help in monitoring illegal fishing and unsustainable fishing practices while big data and AI can be deployed to help in monitoring marine biodiversity health.

A healthy world ocean is critical to man’s survival and there is need for a tradeoff between ocean use and conservation so that these streams of benefits can continue being realized in the long-term for socio-economic and environmental sustainability including leveraging on the opportunities that the blue economy presents.

Dr. Njoka, MBS, is the Secretary General/CEO, Kenya National Commission for UNESCO, the principal liaison government agency between UNESCO and Government of Kenya.