| Oceans | Coastal Areas | Small Islands |

State of the Oceans

The oceans contain a vast, and largely unexplored, diversity of life, from the smallest of micro-organisms to the largest mammals on earth, blue whales. The ocean provides food, medicine, energy and serves as a recreational resource for millions of people. However, the oceans are being overfished and have been polluted for decades, with many species of fish threatened with extinction, and coral reefs, once a safe haven for a variety of animal and plant life, have suffered greatly.
  • Most of the wastes and contaminants produced by human activities end up in the oceans. Some are directly drained or dumped, either purposely or accidentally, in the case of oil spills. Rivers carry runoff from city streets, sewage, industrial wastes, pesticides and fertilizers from farms, and silt from land-clearing and construction projects. Some pollutants first enter the atmosphere and later settle in the ocean.
  • Chemical contamination and litter exist from the poles to the tropics, from beaches to ocean depths.
  • The open ocean is relatively clean because most pollutants come from land and remain in water near coastal areas.
  • Global fish production exceeds that of cattle, sheep, poultry or eggs. It is the biggest source of wild or domestic protein in the world. 15 of the world's 17 largest fisheries are either overfished or in trouble.
ustainable management of the world's oceans is of major concern to the international community to ensure the livelihood of millions of people. In the Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (Johanesburg, 2002), world leaders agreed on a number of activities and actions with focus on the oceans and their resources.

The successful management of the marine environment poses very different challenges from those posed y the terrestrial environment. The oceans are physically contiguous, without clearly identified political boundaries, and are without evident visual surface indicators which reflect their environmental state and which could be used to aid policy makers in their national and international efforts to conserve, protect and use marine resources iun a sustainable manner.

Regional assessments are necessary to manage a coordinated data collection and assessment in defined areas of the world's oceans. Such assessments should be based on science; demonstrate implications of trends and change; look at the socio-economic aspect being influenced by changes; look at impacts of changes in the marine environment on ecosystem goods and services; adopt an ecosystem approach; target policy makers and imdicate policy implications; be progressive and not static; and consider the issues of data quality and periodicity.

With sufficient support for the countries and organizations involved, regional assessments provide the information neded for such action. What is lacking at the moment is a global overview bringing the various regional assessments together, based on science and responding to the needs of policy makers for reliable information about the state of the global marine environment that would allow them to take necessary and timely action.

Assessment criteria:
  • Mandate covers waters from estuaries to international waters
  • Assessment use existing definitions of regions
  • Assessments are either ongoing or undertaken on a regular basis (1-5 years)
Cost Effectiveness
  • Comparatively low budget
  • Low person-hours
  • The resource provision may be considered satisfatory
  • Undertaken at country request or in response to international/regional convention
  • National stakeholders involved in all phases
  • Quality assurance mechanisms are in place
  • External peer review
  • Method guidelines adopted with regular review
  • Assessment is based on empirical data
  • Assessment involves partners
  • Assessment uses an indicator framework
  • The process is above single-country politics
  • It is not dependent exclusively on external and variable funds
  • It is associated with a regional or international agreement
  • Assessment responds to a convention or a national request
  • Is regular
  • Provides policy advice
  • Has provision for review
  • Identifies policy makers as end-users
  • Has stakeholder involvement
  • Outputs are oreinted to user
  • Information freely available

Source: UNEP-WCMC (2003), "Global marine Assessments" UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Center. The full report is available online.
Comments, addtions and references to the above are welcome. Please send then to Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
Return to Oceans
Comments and suggestions to - oceans@gdrc.org