By Professor Dr Wan Izatul Asma Wan Talaat
World Oceans Day (WOD) has been celebrated worldwide on June 8 annually since 2008. “Revitalisation: Collective Action for the Ocean” is the theme of the WOD 2022, designed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science and the UN Ocean Conference, which was adjourned for two years due to the COV1D19 pandemic.
Covering over 70% of the earth’s surface, the oceans are vital to human life and every other organism on the planet. The role of the oceans to the earth is enormous - it produces at least 50% of oxygen, serves as a natural habitat for most of the earth’s biodiversity, and are a major source of protein to the world’s population. In short, the oceans are the key to life and livelihood and the world economy with an estimated 40 million population dependent on ocean-based industries by 2030.
However, the oceans are now in dire need of actions from all quarters where scientific data has shown a 90% reduction in large fish populations and a 50% destruction of coral reefs. We have exploited the oceans more than we can ever replenish and at the same time, rapid land development has also been adversely affecting the oceans. Global warming has also resulted in sudden extreme climate change. As the oceans heat up, more water evaporates upwards into clusters of clouds and eventually forms large hurricanes and powerful storms hitting the coastal areas as well as destroying human settlements and infrastructure. Our coastal areas are also threatened by the sea level rise caused by melting glaciers and snow packs in the mountains as well as Polar and Antarctica ice shields due to the warmer atmosphere.
Collective Action to Save the Oceans
Joint efforts are needed globally to create a new balance in the oceans so that the environment and its natural resources continue to be preserved. The theme of WOD 2022 calls for collective action by all quarters to save the oceans which serve as the lung as well as the food storage to the world.
The UN Ocean Science Decade 2021-2030, in line with the UN Global Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), warrants for collective action at all levels, be it at international, national and local levels through scientific research empowerment and technological innovation.
Scientific Community Involvement
Since saving the oceans from various threats cannot be shouldered alone by any government, even with sturdy financial resources, the scientific expertise should be utilized for ocean solutions.
The WOD 2022 theme also calls for strategic alliances in research and innovative solutions between the scientific community and policy makers, businesses and even civil society. The scientific knowledge proving that climate change, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, pollution from land and habitat degradation are threatening oceans’ productivity and health, may help in forming effective policies and action plans to address these threats. Nations including Malaysia would be able to save the oceans via integrated scientific knowledge and efficient ocean governance framework.
The Institute of Oceanography and Environment, UMT (INOS) is the sole national Higher Institution Centre of Excellence (HICoE) in marine environment since 2012, a status conferred by the Ministry of Higher Education. Through various oceanographic expertise available at UMT, INOS collaborates with national and international scientific community, as well as various government agencies and civil society including the local communities, in the efforts to save the oceans from various threats.
Empowerment of civil society, most especially the public may help the efforts to save the oceans. For example, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recommended 10 steps to be employed by the public to save the oceans -
• Saving water consumption
• Reducing the use of pollutants
• Reducing waste
• Purchasing wisely
• Reducing vehicle pollution
• Reducing energy consumption
• Practising responsible fishing
• Anchoring boats in sandy areas away from corals and seagrass
• Respecting natural habitats
• Volunteering to clean up beaches and water catchment areas
By understanding that the oceans can be saved through scientific knowledge and collective strategic cooperation between all quarters, equipped with strong commitment, we will be able to ensure sustainable oceans and ocean resources continue to serve the world’s needs. The revitalisation of collective action, which is the theme of WOD 2022, is critical to ensuring the sustainability of our oceans, as well as ensuring our survival and the survival of the future generations.
Professor Dr Wan Izatul Asma Wan Talaat is Head of Centre for Ocean Governance at the Institute of Oceanography and Environment, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.