7 Ocean wins from COP27

Incredible Ocean photo. Waves of the Ocean are in a spiral formation.

Everything you need to know: COP27 outcomes.

COP27 was the third longest COP in history – but what Ocean and planet wins did the global climate summit deliver?

One things was strikingly clear throughout COP27: Climate change has become mainstream.

Global coverage of the biggest climate summit made headlines through the weeks, providing hope or despair, depending on where you looked.  

Planet Earth from space. Text on the image of our blue planet reads: The time for climate action is now. Together for implementation. In this article, Ocean Generation shares what Ocean wins came from COP27 and climate action we can take to look after our blue planet.

What was the biggest win at COP27? 

The push for stronger climate financing measures resulted in the historic outcome of establishing a ‘loss and damage fund’. Although the finer details hadn’t been drafted at the end of the climate conference, this was still the prominent highlight of COP27.

This fund will only be available for developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate-related disasters. This is a crucial win for small island nations.

What is loss and damage, in the context of climate conversations?

In a COP27 interview, Dr. Kees van der Geest, Senior Migration Expert, United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), explained what loss and damage means in a nutshell: 

“I’ve been working on it [loss and damage] for 10 years. ‘Loss and damage’ is really about situations; where people live in places where the impacts of climate change are so severe that adaptation is no longer possible or feasible. It is not necessarily a future scenario because that is the lived reality for some people now.” 

Read: Here’s an article about the loss and damage fund established at COP27 for further reading.

6 images in a grid presenting various environments on Earth and how climate change impacts us all. Image 1: Two children look out at the Ocean; a rainbow is over the Ocean. Image 2: A dry planet with rocks/ Image 3: A young woman in a business suit running along the beach. Image 4: A green turtle raising its head to the Ocean's waterline. Image 5: An aerial photo of trees; mist is rolling in. Image 6: Hands of a person reaching into dirty drinking water. Text on the image reads climate changes us all.

What was the biggest disappointment of COP27?  

With global warming at 1.1C, COP27 proved that the scientific consensus of limiting warming to 1.5C was not being taken seriously enough. The final decision made no mention of phasing down fossil fuels, except for coal, with the power of fossil fuel delegates tremoring through this decision.  

The IPCC (a kind of survival guide for humanity) stresses that global emissions must decline 45% by 2030. If we want to keep this limit alive, we need to peak global emissions by 2025.

This does not mean that we should just wait until COP28 in hopes of sweeping action.

In every corner of the world, people are rallying together to implement ambitious initiatives and COP27 has also shed light on many positive developments.

For people and the planet. 

And the Ocean!  

Close up photo of the Ocean. Little ripples in the water show how delicate the movement of the Ocean can be be.
In this article about Ocean wins at COP27, Ocean Generation shares outcomes of the worlds biggest climate sumit.

Seven Ocean wins from COP27: 

1. Young people are part of the decision-making progress.

COP27 hosted a Youth and Children Pavilion, marking the first official space for young people at a COP.

Another milestone came from YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC, being recognised as stakeholders in designing and implementing climate policies.

2. Enthusiasm for the energy transition.

Despite the disappointment with curbing fossil fuels, the enthusiasm for a just energy transition is undeniable. Renewable energies are here to stay.

Some of the renewable energy transition commitments include:

  • Tanzania updated their NDC to achieve 80% adoption of renewable energies by 2025 (from 60% in 2015).
  • The Just Energy Transition Partnership for Indonesia which launched at the G20 summit, in parallel to COP 27, will secure $20 billion from wealthy economies to scale up renewables like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal.
3. The Global Methane Pledge gains momentum.

In the first week of COP27, we shared that 130 countries has joined the Global Methane Pledge. By the end of COP27, that number grew to 150 countries.

4. Decarbonising the shipping industry is a serious priority.

There has been massive mobilisation to curb shipping emissions.

Text quote on an image of a shipping boat out at sea. It reads: "If shipping was a standalone economy, it would be the 10th largest emitter." Quote by President Joe Biden.

Some of the measures include:

  • More countries, ports and companies stated their plans to support the Green Shipping Challenge. Here’s a list of the various announcements made.
  • The EU’s “Fit for 55” package proposal includes the first ever carbon market for shipping and adoption of cleaner fuels.
  • Noteworthy policy recommendation: No one country is responsible for a majority of shipping emissions but a study conducted by Transport & Environment showed that a zero-emission mandate in EU, China, and US could decarbonise 84% of global shipping. 
5. The Ocean is part of the final COP27 cover decision.

In 2022, the Ocean had a seat at climate conversations at COP27.

The importance of Ocean-based climate action was highlighted and the COP27 cover decision emphasised this need and encouraged nations to “blue” their NDC’s.

6. Funds will be made available for early-warning systems.

Vulnerable nations need early-warning systems for adaptation and building resilience. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced a $3.1 billion plan to support the development of these systems to protect people within the next five years.

7. Spotlight on nature-based Ocean solutions.

We cannot address climate change without considering the Ocean.

As more people realise this, we’re seeing great initiatives that support protecting the Ocean and ensuring its health:

  • The Great Blue Wall Initiative aims to protect marine areas to counteract the effects of climate change and global warming. 
  • Hope for Coral Reefs – Egypt announced protection for the entire Great Fringing Reef in the Red Sea, creating a 2000km marine protected area (MPA).  
  • The Mangrove Breakthrough Alliance aims to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves globally, by 2030, through collective action.  
  • The Convex Seascape Survey is a research programme aiming to provide critical data and insights on the connections between carbon and the Ocean.  

“The Ocean and nature are our greatest allies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as conservation efforts have a “triple bottom line” in that they address economies, communities, and nature.” 

Razan Al Mubarak, President, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 
Image split in two; horizontally. In the top half there is a city skyline representing people. In the bottom image is a coral reef; representing the Ocean. Ocean Generation's brand trust circle is in the center of the image. Ocean Generation is a registered Ocean charity teaching the world about the Ocean and how to live sustainably.

Ocean Generation’s comment on COP27: 

Like any other COP, there is always going to be tension between progress and potential setbacks.

While there will always be room for doing more and better, COP is the only summit where world leaders and multiple stakeholders come together to discuss our environmental impacts and implement solutions.
And without it, the conversations would be more diluted, disjointed, and slow to progress.  

The progress made year on year at COP should translate into hope for all.

The decisions we make in this decade will have long-lasting impacts and we hope the Ocean continues to receive exponentially more importance in COP28’s agenda in 2023.

In the midst of increasing climate-related disasters perpetuated by other crises, hope can be instilled through action. We need the Ocean more than it needs us. So, let’s act now – in whatever position, wherever we are. However big, however small.

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12 interesting coral reef facts

Bright yellow fish next o a coral reef. Shared by Ocean Generation in an article about interesting coral reef facts.

Coral reefs are one of the most indispensable ecosystems on Earth.

What makes corals are so brightly coloured? Why do they turn white when they’re unhealthy? We’ve got you covered. Below, we’re sharing 12+ fascinating facts about coral reefs: The most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth.

Corals reefs are large skeletons (because they’re made up of tiny animals a.k.a. ‘coral polyps’). They’re home to hundreds of plants and organisms, support fisheries and may host the answers needed to develop new cancer medication. 

How many of these coral reef facts do you know?

Close up of dark blue coral reef in the Ocean. Shared by Ocean Generation: Experts in Ocean health since 2009.

1. Coral reefs occur in more than 100 countries and territories whilst covering only 0.2% of the seafloor. They reside in tropical and semi-tropical waters.  

2. The single-celled algae, zooxanthellae, that live in the tissues of the coral polyps can fuel up to 90% of the reef-building coral’s energy requirements for growth and reproduction. Additionally, zooxanthellae are responsible for the vibrant colours of the corals!  

3. In return, the corals provide them with a home to reside in and nutrients to aid photosynthesis. Thus, fulfilling a mutually beneficial (‘symbiotic’) relationship! 

Colourful coral reef, bursting with life. There's a sea turtle and some orange fish swimming in the Ocean around the reef.

4. A healthy coral reef can limit coastal wave energy by up to 97%. That alone makes corals a crucial shoreline protector, like some other coastal ecosystems.

Coral reefs protect around $6 billion worth of built infrastructure from flooding around the world, from an economic perspective.

5. Large scale losses of coral reefs are due to a warming Ocean and climate change.

Land-based pollution of nutrients and sediments from agriculture, marine pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and outbreaks of coral diseases and crown-of-thorn starfish (see below image) are all causes of local coral losses. 

Large, purple crown of thorn starfish on the seafloor in the Ocean. These starfish threaten the livelihoods of coral reefs. Facts about corals shared by Ocean Generation.

6. Coral reefs support at least a quarter of all marine species. What’s more: Coral reefs are a home to an average of 830,000 species (550,000 – 1,330,000). The range varies widely due to large populations of small cryptic species being difficult to sample.  

7. Astonishingly, scientists estimate that roughly 74% of coral reef species remain undiscovered! 

8. Ocean acidification is a major threat to coral reefs.

The decrease in pH (making water acidic) hinders corals and other organisms from forming their skeletons. This makes them especially vulnerable in juvenile stages.

The weakening of these skeletons also results in habitat loss, low reef biodiversity, coastline erosion etc. 

9. Coral reefs subjected to higher temperature levels increase the likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes. According to the IPCC, a record-shattering warming world of 1.5°C would mean a 70-90% decline in coral reefs.  

10. Coral reef associated fisheries provide 70% of protein in the diets of Pacific Islanders. These fisheries support around 6 million people and are worth $6.8 billion annually.  

Coral in the Ocean experiencing coral bleaching. Corals turn white when they're bleached.

11. Corals can turn white due to coral bleaching. Climate change is a major driver of coral bleaching, and this process disrupts the symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae.  

As the algae is dispelled by the corals in an attempt to protect themselves, the corals vulnerability increases and they lose a major energy source. If the heat stress persists, corals are likely to die.  

Hands near the shoreline of the Ocean holding an unhealthy piece of coral. The coral is bleached white because of climate change. Image shared by Ocean Generation, experts in Ocean health and understandable environmental science.

Over half of the our coral reefs are already lost.

12. Coral restoration is a relatively new nature-based solution. Nature-based solutions refers to an umbrella of methods for reviving ecosystems in the face of adversity. 

A 2020 review stated that coral restoration projects report a survival rate between 60-70% with a report stating that 1.5C warming would render this solution to be ineffective.

The authors of the review noted that most projects are small-scale and that we’ll still require large-scale climate action to tackle the root of this issue. 

With over half of the world’s coral reefs already lost, it is evident that coral reefs are declining due to a multitude of human pressures.  

Some warm water corals have reached adaptation limits. Nevertheless, scientists and local communities are working extremely hard to continuously build on existing solutions and quickly adopt innovative approaches. 

The existential threat of the rise in global temperatures means that climate change action is urgently needed to establish coral reef resilience.  

Act now.

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7 Interesting travel facts, linked to the environment 

Plane ascending into the sky. Ocean Generation is sharing 7 interesting travel facts linked to the environment in this article.

How much do we need to reduce travel emissions to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement?”

Good question! Perhaps you’ve also wondered how much worse the private jets celebs catch are, compared to commercial planes, or how much more we drive than walk?

Here are 7 interesting travel facts linked to the environmental:

Teal travel van parked against the backdrop of a coastal road. There's a blue sky, a stretch of Ocean, and lush wild grass with a few flowers. Shared by Ocean Generation in an article about interesting travel facts with an environmental lens.

1. Transport-related CO2 emissions would need to be curbed to 2Gt or 3Gt by 2050, or 70-80% lower than 2015 levels to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C limit.  

2. More passengers per vehicle = lower individual emissions.  

The transport sector causes substantial negative impacts on the environment and human health. Image of a close up of a car exhaust with CO2 being released.

3. A double decker bus, a clever form of public transport, can replace up to 50 other motorised vehicles.

4. Making cities walkable, i.e., making it easy to travel around a neighbourhood on your own two feet, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 4 tonnes a year when compared to automobile-dependent areas.

The avoided emissions are equivalent to 2-person round trip flying economy between Paris and New York.  

5. We now drive seven times as much as we walk.  

6. In 2016 most passengers in the UK (72%) were flying for leisure.  

7. Private jets are 5-14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger) and about 50 times more polluting than trains.

The amount of space taken up on a road by 50 pedestrians vs. 50 cyclists vs. 50 people on a bus vs. 50 people in 33 cars. This image is shared by ocean Generation in their article about interesting travel facts through an environmental lens.
The amount of space taken up on a road by 50 pedestrians vs. 50 cyclists vs. 50 people on a bus vs. 50 people in 33 cars. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Our planet doesn’t need a handful of perfect environmentalists. It needs millions of imperfect people doing what they can to make a difference, and always trying to do better.  

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What’s the environmental impact of travel?  

Image split in half horizontally. In the top image an aeroplane, headed towards the camera, is visible. In the lower image are wooden benches at a train or underground station. This article shares the environmental impact of the ways we travel.

Despite our increasingly sedentary and digitally bound lifestyles, we still need to travel from one place to another – for our basic needs, work, school, or leisure – and it all has an environmental impact.

Imagine your typical week, what kinds of transport do you use? Do you rely on your local bus to get to school? Or perhaps a tram or metro to commute to work? Do you drive or take a taxi to visit your friends and family on the weekend? 

Globally, over half of the world’s population live in urbanised areas and we primarily use motorised modes of transport. This makes the sector heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

The transport sector is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, with oil as the dominant fuel source. Ocean Generation shares what the environmental impact of our travel is in this article.

Even with increased electrification of road vehicles and innovative fuel sources, decarbonising this sector has remained challenging.  

Environmental impact of the transport sector (in numbers): 

The environmental impact of the transport sector: in numbers. 25% of energy is consumed globally by the transport sector. 40% of transport emissions come from end-use sectors  

We’re covering 3 areas of interest when it comes to the environmental impacts of travel:

  • Air Travel 
  • Active Travel (walking and cycling) 
  • Public Transportation  

To fly or not to fly? 

The short answer is no, where possible.  

Air travel, both domestic and international, is higher emitting than is indicated by CO2 emission figures alone.  

This is because there are non-CO2 pollutants like nitrous oxides, sulphates, soot particles, etc that are directly released into the upper atmosphere.  

Localised effects of these pollutants can be more damaging than the effects of CO2 alone. In fact, one study found that non-CO2 emissions are three times more polluting than just CO2 alone. 

Why is flying at night worse for the environment? 

Condensation trails, AKA contrails, are line-shaped clouds that form from the water vapour released when burning fuel. These clouds can have both a cooling and warming effect on our planet.  

They can cool the Earth’s surface by reflecting sunlight but are disproportionately capable of trapping heat. This means that night flights are more polluting since there is no sunlight to be reflected.  

Plane flying through a navy blue sky. Behind the plane are condensation trails, also known as contrails. Ocean Generation is sharing why flying at night is worse for the environment than catching a flight during the day.

Only a small proportion of the world’s population engage in air travel, but those of us who do can point to it being the largest slice of our personal carbon footprints.  

This is especially true for those who fly on private jets. Private jets are 5-14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger) and about 50 times more polluting than trains.  

Many uncertainties remain with our understanding of the full impact of contrails and decarbonising air travel has proved to be difficult despite recent innovative advancements.  

  

Active travel is making a comeback

One of the best and most accessible ways of reducing our transport carbon footprint is by walking and cycling.

These two methods of transportation have low lifecycle CO2 emissions and are environmentally friendly alternatives to using a car or public transport. Electric bikes are also on the rise and can aid slightly longer distances.  

Image split in half horizontally. On the top half of the image is a close up of a bicycle wheel. On the bottom half, a pair of green sneakers on some lush grass. Image shared by Ocean Generation in an article discussing how the ways we travel impacts our planet's health.

Another benefit of walking and cycling is its positive impact on our health; it has been found to improve our physical health and reduce the risk of various diseases.

This could improve our mental health since it promotes social interactions and helps people feel more connected to both their communities and natural surroundings. 

But according to WHO, “More than half of all road traffic deaths and injuries involve vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists and their passengers”.  

We need to work on better road infrastructure and safer areas. Active travel needs to be accessible for disadvantaged groups so they too can reap the benefits.   

We need better public transportation networks.  

An effective public transport system can have significant effects on the reduction of transport related CO2 emissions. 

Trains, buses, trams, subways/metros, and more play a vital role decreasing emissions by directly reducing the need for car ownership which in turn minimises road congestion.

Here is a graph representing the carbon footprint of multiple transport modes:

Carbon footprint of travel per kilometer in 2018 from World in Data shared by Ocean generation.
The carbon footprint of travel is measured in grams of carbon dioxide-equivalents per passenger kilometer.
This includes the impact of increased warming from aviation emissions at altitude.

Some of the takeaways from Figure 1 are: 

  • Overall, the emissions discrepancy between air travel and public transport modes is highly evident.  
  • Light rail and trams are over 4 times less emitting than taking a taxi.  
  • Trains are always a better option than flying domestically.  
  • There is great potential in low-carbon international rail journeys, like in the case of Eurostar. 
  • Economy seats are more carbon friendly than business class which could be pointed to capacity difference (fewer and bigger seats in business class) and added amenities.  
Red train coming to a stop in Japan, shared by Ocean Generation in an article that addresses the environmental impact of how we travel.

In wealthy countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Germany where a lot of investment and development of public transportation has occurred, it is well used by its locals and, as a result, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are relatively low.  

In comparison, we see the opposite in the US which has invested more in highways resulting in a drop in the use of public transit and transportation emits more greenhouse gases than any other sector of the economy.  

Ultimately, a person’s travel choices are deeply influenced by household income and transport prices. The IPCC suggests that increasing adoption of public transport modes will require making public transport more convenient, reliable, and less expensive than using a car. 

How can I become a responsible traveller?

Travelling with the environment in mind is possible:

  • Reducing the number of flights taken is always the best option.  
  • Avoid flights if alternatives exist (like rail, bus etc.).  
  • Choose direct flights where possible to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise emissions associated with take-offs. 
  • For short to medium distances, consider walking or cycling rather than individual vehicles or public transport.  
  • Trains, metros/subways, trams, and buses should be chosen over personal vehicles where possible. 
  • Voice your interest for better and/or more public transport options in your local area, if it doesn’t already exist. 
  • Write to your local authorities to invest in pedestrian footpaths, cycling lanes, and enhance road safety.  
  • Sharing is caring; carpooling is a neat way of lowering your individual carbon footprint.  

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What we Eat: Is locally sourced food better for the planet? 

Is locally sourced food better for the planet? Ocean Generation weighs in. The top half of this image shows lush lettuce with water droplets and the bottom shows a sea turtle swimming in the Ocean among some seagrass.

Over 10,000 years ago, we planted our first seeds and domesticated animals – marking a major milestone for homo sapiens (humans).

Fast forward to the present and it’s easy to see that we’ve come a long way from founding agricultural practices to the complex globalised food system we’ve built today.  

Hands of a farmer picking fruit off of a plant, on a farm. Ocean Generation is sharing how what we eat impacts the health of our planet and Ocean.

Many of us are now able to purchase foods, in and out of season, throughout the year. Food systems tend to be high-yielding and complex: the low cost of the products could be argued to be offset by the hefty environmental cost.  

Is eating locally sourced food better for the planet? 

We are exploring the public discourse between local and non-local foods, through the lens of carbon emissions

But first, we need to understand the components of the food system.  

What’s the environmental cost of the food on my plate? 

The food on our plates often makes its way to us through a complex food system.  

What is a food system 

A food system refers to the entire process (aka lifecycle) of producing, processing, distributing and consuming food.

A strawberry on a fork along with the words: The food system accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Shared by Ocean Generation.

This system accounts for a third, or 18 GTCO2eq, of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions where: 

Agricultural production (farms and animal feed) is responsible for a whopping 39% of the emissions. 

Changes in land use (deforestation and fluctuations in carbon in soil) is responsible for 32% of the emissions and, 

Other supply chain activities (like processing, transport, retail, packaging, and consumption) are responsible for 29% of the emissions.  

Aside from emissions, food systems are also accountable for high water usage and being the primary driver of biodiversity loss.

Evidently, the systems we’ve built need transformative changes that minimise this environmental toll. It also means addressing the undeniable role of the meat and dairy industry in the rise of emissions. 

From a consumer perspective, many argue that buying local produce is the best way to minimise our emissions.

Although this is a popular policy recommendation, academia suggests a slightly different picture. 

Above and below: Half of the image shows a farm with yellow wheat and the bottom half of the image shows a scene of corals and fish; life in the Ocean. A sting ray is swimming with a remora on its back and some yellow fish.

What does “locally sourced” food mean? 

There is no widely accepted definition of ‘local’ food, but it broadly revolves around minimal distances between where the food is produced and where it is consumed.  

‘Local’ food can be interpreted in a few ways:

– Within a community, city, village, or county, 
– Within a State (like in US, India), or, 
– Within a small country (like Jamaica, Estonia, Lebanon) 

In the US, according to the 2008 Farm Act, to be classified as ‘local’, foods would have to come from 400 miles or less.

If we apply this to a person shopping in Slovenia, a small European country, they could, in theory, buy produce from all their neighbouring countries and consider that as ‘local’.

So, the different interpretations to ‘local’ food allows room for varying circumstances.  

Does the type of transport used for foods matter? 

Yes! It is worth noting the emission disparities between different modes of transport.

The most GHG-efficient option for transporting food is via cargo ships. This is followed by rail, cars, vans, and trucks.

Unintuitively, storing foods locally year-round tend to be more GHG intensive than having the same products shipped from another country.   

The transport method used to carry your food from farm to fork makes a huge environmental difference.

In general, air freighted foods are the least GHG-efficient. As a consumer, it can be difficult to assess what is air-freighted and what is not.

A useful guide is to assess whether the product has a limited shelf life (for example, mangoes and berries) and if it is from a country quite far away.  

Now, let’s dive into a common question encountered in the local vs non-local food debate.  

Don’t non-locally sourced foods mean higher travel emissions? 

Not necessarily.

Here are eight foods and their supply chain emissions visualised in two ways: 

Greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain for 8 different types of food. [Credit: Our World in Data] 
Figure 1 GHG Emissions across the supply chain [Credit: Our World in Data] 
Greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain for 8 types of food. [Credit: Our World in Data] 
Figure 2 Relative GHG Emissions across the supply chain [Credit: Our World in Data] 

In figure 1, we are able to see the overall emissions of certain foods, noting that some foods have high emissions (like meat) while some have low or negative emissions (like nuts). Therefore, we can make the biggest impact by swapping out high-emission foods where possible.  

Figure 2 allows for a deeper understanding of emissions from each step of the supply chain. Although there are exceptions, travel emissions for most foods are minimal compared to the emissions associated with land use, farming, and animal feed. 

If you’d like to learn more about this in the context of other foods, click here to use the graphing tool. 

What are the best practices to adopt when sourcing foods? 

From an environmental perspective, making decisions on how to source foods can be unclear.

Some of the best practices guided by growing evidence suggests the following:  

– In terms of emissions reduction, what you eat matters more than whether it is local or not.  

– In general, buy locally grown seasonal foods like vegetables and fruits.  

– Buy local especially if you know where you’re buying from, who you’re buying from and how they grow the food. The transparency of supply chains will enable you to consider wider environmental, economic, and social impacts to make well-informed decisions. 

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Mangroves: Underrated Climate Change Heroes 

Mangrove tree growing out of water. Mangroves are climate change heroes thanks to their ability to sequester 3 - 5 times more carbon than normal forests.

Everything you need to know about mangrove trees:

Mangroves are the only forests situated at the confluence of land and sea in the world’s subtropics and tropics. They have been variously described as “coastal woodland”, “mangal”, “tidal forest” and “mangrove forest.”  

There are roughly 70 species of mangrove trees occupying a total estimated area of 147,000 km2 worldwide. This is equivalent to the size of Bangladesh! Roughly 43% of the world’s mangrove forests are situated in just four countries: Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, and Nigeria.  

These forests are home to an abundance of life, protecting people from floods whilst storing carbon at an impressive capacity. 

Mangrove trees in Indonesia. The mangroves - a coastal ecosystem - are vital climate change heroes. Here, they are near a body of water. Uniquely, mangroves can be found in coastal and fresh water environments.

Biodiversity in mangrove forests 

In the right conditions, mangroves form extensive and productive forests.

These forests support animal populations both within the forest and in offshore areas. Densities of crabs are especially likely to be highest on unvegetated mudbanks adjacent to mangroves, feeding on propagules (buds of plants). 

Juvenile shrimps are important organisms near mangroves too, and a sought-after food for many communities. These shrimps obtain carbon (food) from plankton and algae living amongst the mangroves. 

There are also a few endemic mammal species in mangroves. For example, crab-eating rats in Australia, the leaf monkey in Malaysia, and the proboscis monkey in Borneo. 

Here is a diagram further highlighting the importance of mangroves to so many species for different reasons – 

What species live in mangrove forests? Animals use mangroves as a nursery, foraging and nesting habitat. Some species like tree crabs, spotted mangrove crabs and crocodiles spend their whole lives in mangrove forests.

Figure 1 Conceptual diagram illustrating the critical habitat that mangroves provide for a variety of animals [Credit: Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science] 

Why should we care about mangrove trees? 

– Mangrove forests are widely recognised as providing a wide variety of goods and services to people, including protection from floods, provision of a variety of plant and animal products, sediment trapping, and nutrient uptake and transformation.  

– Annually, mangroves are responsible for over $60 billion in avoided losses from coastal flooding, protecting more than 15 million people.  

– An impressive diversity of plant products is harvested from mangrove trees, including tannins, honey, medicinal products, and thatch. 

Aerial image of mangrove forests.

Mangroves are a blue carbon solution  

– Mangroves have gained a lot of attention in recent years over their ability to sequester carbon, storing between 3-5 times more carbon per hectare than terrestrial forests. 

– They have carbon-rich soil that’s been built-up for over hundreds or thousands of years. 

– 87% of carbon stocks in mangroves are just within the top meter of soil. According to one report, if this were released into the atmosphere, it would be equal to 7.5 years of emissions from the EU or burning 51 billion barrels of oil. 

What are the drivers of degradation and loss of mangroves?  

Up to 60% of mangrove tree losses are due to direct or indirect human impacts. These drivers are –

– Logging (for timber, charcoal) 
– Agriculture (oil palm cultivation)
– Aquaculture (ponds for shrimp and fish farming) 
– Pollution (from oil and gas extraction, and nutrient run-off) 
– Coastal infrastructure development  
– Climate change (sea level rise, hurricanes, drought) 

Mangroves Degradation in Timor-Leste shared by Ocean Generation.

Mangrove Restoration and Conservation Efforts 

Our knowledge of mangrove area dynamics at local to global scales has increased significantly since 2000 due to advances in remote sensing and data access.

Around 42% of remaining mangroves are now located in protected areas. But protected areas may not always provide strong protection. Many mangroves fall prey to erosion and storms, naturally occurring phenomena, while some don’t stand the test of time due to ineffective management.  

The front line of mangrove protection, management and sustainable use involves people—communities, indigenous groups, traditional users, and local governments.  

The Global Mangrove Alliance, is an important and ambitious initiative, seeking to halt loss caused by direct human impact, restore at least half of recent mangrove losses, and increase protection from over 40% to 80% by 2030. 

How coastal communities have helped mangrove forests thrive 

Around the world, there are countless examples of collaborations that have helped coastal communities and mangroves to thrive together.  

For example, in Pakistan, mangroves are concentrated mainly in the north along the Arabian Sea coastline where arid climate prevails. Under the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project, 43.50 million plants will be planted in one of the world’s largest endeavours to restore mangroves.  

This ambitious project will not only provide a natural barrier against erosion, climate disasters but will also restore breeding grounds for finfish and shrimps. It has the potential to improve the livelihoods of fishing and herding communities living in the many coastal villages dotting the country’s northern shores.   

A man leaning into a body of water to plant a mangrove tree. Mangrove trees are incredible trees. They act as climate change heroes because of their incredible ability to sequester carbon.

Mangrove planting has been increasingly considered a Nature-based Solution (NbS)  

This enthusiasm, seen through national policy commitments and community-led initiatives, can now be assessed against a Global Standard for NbS, a criteria set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to ensure that these projects are credible and well-designed to maximise their full potential.  

Mangroves provide many benefits and their ability to store carbon cannot be ignored. It is a useful nature-based solution to help reduce our emissions but it’s not the only one! 

What can I do to further mangrove conservation? 

  1. Show your support for mangroves in native areas –
    Find out if mangroves are native to your surroundings. If they are, vocalise your support for them and educate your community on the importance of mangroves.

    If your local mangroves are subject to degradation, rally support for preservation and speak to your local authorities. You can also keep track of mangrove restoration through the Mangrove Restoration Tracker tool.  
     
  1. Be a considerate tourist –
    Mangrove tourism exists across 93 countries, with boating being the most popular activity. So next time you travel, appreciate mangroves and the diverse wildlife they host but don’t leave anything behind!

    You can also participate in mangrove planting, for example, in the Philippines, through the Planeterra Project.  
     
A bridge leading across water and into a mangrove forest.

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How can I tackle a problem as complex as climate change?

A ripple of water. Ocean Generation makes environmental science easy to understand and shares how each individual has a ripple effect on the environment and health of the Ocean.

The Ocean has never been this subjected to the level of intensity of climate change impacts caused by human activities. With every 0.1 degree C of warming, we make it more and more difficult for humans, flora, and fauna to adapt. 

A warming Ocean means that marine ecosystems like coral reefs and salt marshes are less able to host marine biodiversity and sustain many benefits for humans.

This also disrupts the Ocean’s ability to regulate the global climate system, water, and carbon cycle. 

It goes without saying that the climate crisis is now a defining issue of our lifetimes, and we have a slim window of opportunity to reduce our collective impact. 

Four images side by side: Rough blue Ocean waves and foam, a factory releasing carbon emissions behind a field of yellow floowers, a single green lead on a crusty dry piece of Earth, a bright pink and healthy coral in the Ocean. Ocean Generation makes climate science simple to understand.

Is there a way out of the climate crisis? 

The Ocean stores 20-30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities but this is unsustainable, resulting in an acidic, slow circulating, less oxygenated Ocean.

To put it simply, we need to rapidly reduce our emissions to give young people and future generations a chance to secure a sustainable future.  

According to the latest IPCC report, we need to cut global GHG emissions by nearly half by 2030. These emissions come from electricity production, food, agriculture, land use, industry, transportation etc. Cutting emissions requires global collaboration and cooperation – from governments to individuals.  

The challenge is immense, but the solutions could not be clearer.

A ripple of water. Ocean Generation makes environmental science easy to understand and shares how each individual has a ripple effect on the environment and health of the Ocean.

What do we need to do to limit global warming?  

Some of these solutions have already been set in motion: Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, increasing uptake of clean energies, restoring carbon sinks, and much more. The slow pace of adoption and funding associated with these solutions have been repeatedly questioned, given the world is currently at 1.1C.  

The effects of climate change are already being felt in different corners of the world, albeit disproportionately.  

In order for us to stay within any warming limit, we need to make the necessary changes needed to sustain humanity as a whole. And as individuals, each and every one of us have carbon footprints attached to our households and lifestyles.  

We must address the fact that
we do not emit emissions equally 

Globally, there are huge disparities between those who over-consume and those who consume less due to socioeconomic and geographic factors.  

In fact, the top 10% of high-income households contribute 34–45% of consumption-based household GHG emissions and the bottom 50% contribute 13–15%.  

These stark differences mean that individuals in the top 50% are the in the best position to reduce their emissions, giving the opportunity to raise living standards for those in the bottom 50%.  

When considering our lifestyles, the conclusions are quite similar. 

What impact do our lifestyle choices have on carbon emissions?  

According to 2022 UNEP report, “the lifestyles of the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population (broadly speaking, most middleclass persons living in industrialised countries), are responsible for almost half of the global emissions, while the lifestyles of the wealthiest 1% are responsible for about twice as many GHG emissions as the poorest 50%”.  

Lifestyles are not just about the things we consume, but also addresses the communities we live in, the values we foster and the choices we make.

Individuals that are socio-economically well-off are in an instrumental position for enabling change. One paper suggests that individuals in this category could reduce emissions as role models, citizens, organisational participants, investors, and consumers.  

Ultimately, environmental, and societal well-being go hand-in-hand; it is in humanity’s best interests to fairly consume within our means.  

Footprint made of sea shells on the sand at a beach. Each of us has carbon footprints attached to our households and lifestyles. We can minimise our impact with every decision we make.

What can people to do to lower their carbon emissions 

There are four key areas where individuals can have the most impact: Food, transport, housing, and the things we buy (like appliances, clothes etc).  

There is no denying that industry supply chains have a responsibility to reduce environmental impacts and provide sustainable choices. Small, and local businesses also tend to be more transparent, gaining consumer trust. Low-carbon alternatives exist in each of the aforementioned areas, and we can collectively vouch for further changes, whether that’s accessibility or affordability.  

At Ocean Generation, we will be covering climate change solutions under each of the above areas through 2023. Namely:

What we Eat food sources, diets, and food waste 
How we Move modes of mobility 
What we Purchase appliances, fashion 
How we Live energy sources and energy-saving behaviours 

Four areas where individuals have agency over their emissions: how we move, how we live, what we purchase and what we eat. Ocean Generation will be covering solutions related to climate change because climate solutions are Ocean solutions. We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy Ocean.

Climate change solutions are Ocean solutions, and vice versa.

The finite resources on this planet need to be utilised efficiently and distributed equally while minimising our impact with each and every decision we make.  

The future of the Ocean is very much in our own hands.  

With every 0.1C degree warming avoided, biodiversity and humans are given another chance. Let’s make every choice count!  

The future of the Ocean is in our hands. To have a healthy planet, we need a healthy Ocean. Ocean Generation shares climate change solutions and Ocean solutions to safeguard our planet.

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What is the UN High Seas Treaty and why does it matter? 

After two decades, the open Ocean or ‘high seas’ are on its way to being protected.  

On 20th February 2023, the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) resumed negotiations in attempt to agree on a treaty to protect the high seas.

The last negotiations were held in August 2022 and ended without agreement.  

Our Ocean has been under pressure for decades and we cannot ignore the Ocean emergency,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General in a statement, reiterating the need for a treaty that paves the way for a sustainable Ocean. 

What are the “high seas”? 

High seas refer to the vast majority of the Ocean that lies beyond national jurisdictions. This open water is not governed by any one country and covers 64% of the Ocean’s surface. 

Global map showing the extent of exclusive economic zones (EEZ’s) and the high seas. [Extracted from Sumaila et al.]

What does the High Seas Treaty mean for our Ocean 

After an extra day of intense negotiations, IGC president, Rena Lee, Singapore, announced that the United Nations (UN) High Seas Treaty had been agreed.

This was a monumental milestone twenty years in the making.

“The ship has reached the shore!” – IGC President, Rena Lee, Singapore when the High Seas Treaty was accepted in 2023.
[Credit: Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis] 

“The ship has reached the shore!”

IGC President, Rena Lee, Singapore.

5 main takeaways from the High Seas Treaty:

Strengthening 30 x 30

This agreement seeks to protect 30% of the Ocean by 2030. This was an outcome from COP 15 (the global biodiversity conference held in Dec, 2022) that will be strengthened with the help of this treaty.  

Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) –

This treaty will provide the legal framework necessary to set up MPA’s as no such framework currently exists.  

Conference of the Parties (COP) –

Establish a COP to ensure accountability on issues like biodiversity and governance.  

Marine Genetic Resources (MGR’s) –

Highlighting the need for processes to share genetic resources like plants and animals for pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics, etc.  

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) –

Greater obligations to conduct EIA’s on activities relating to pollution or any potential effects on the marine environment that is unknown or not yet fully understood.  

 Ocean Generation’s Statement on the High Seas Treaty: 

“We are delighted to hear that the UN High Seas Treaty has finally become a reality.  

A healthy Ocean is vital for the survival of all living things, and this is the message we continue to deliver through our work at Ocean Generation. Protecting 30% by 2030 must, however, be seen as a minimum requirement.  

We view this agreement as a starting point. The Ocean is our ally in the fight against climate change and we must stop underestimating its role in our survival. The sooner this treaty is ratified by all countries, the better chance we have of a safe and healthy future for the generations that will follow us.” 


Jo Ruxton MBE 
Founder of Ocean Generation 

We intend to update this article once the final text of the treaty has been published. 

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Why protect blue carbon ecosystems?  

The Ocean stores a considerable amount of our carbon:

The Ocean is one of the largest natural carbon sinks on Earth, making it a crucial component of the carbon cycle. This means that the Ocean captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

This carbon is stored in surface waters, eventually making its way into the deep Ocean. 

But there are other ways in which carbon is stored… 

The role of blue carbon  

All along our coastlines, we have unique ecosystems that capture and lock carbon away, mostly in the soil, for sometimes thousands of years.

These ecosystems are termed “blue carbon.”

This includes: 

Mangroves
Seagrass Meadows, and 
– Salt Marshes 

They can be potent carbon sinks, storing more carbon than forests on land, on a per-area basis, in the case of mangroves. Some of the other benefits include: 

– coastal protection (acting as a buffer between the Ocean and land) 
– increased biodiversity 
– reducing Ocean acidification  
– soil stabilisation 
– improved water flow and water quality  
– storm and flooding surge prevention, and  
– increased resilience to cyclones 

These ecosystems can be considered a nature-based solution in tackling the rise the carbon emissions.

But they are under threat. In fact, globally, between 20-50% of blue carbon ecosystems have already been converted or degraded.  

Drivers of blue carbon loss and degradation 

Our coastlines are often competed for – whether its daily Ocean activities or commercial purposes.

This invariably devalues existing blue carbon ecosystems. The main drivers of loss and degradation are: 

– salt ponds (for salt extraction) 
– agriculture  
excessive use of fertilisers (pollution)
intensive aquaculture
coastal infrastructure development  

The case for protection and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems 

If degraded or lost, blue carbon ecosystems have the potential to release the carbon back into the atmosphere.

This is not the best scenario, given carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are already reaching levels not experienced in at least 2 million years (!). 

Not only is protection and restoration good for the climate, but it also has the potential to create jobs and support economic growth.

Coastal ecosystems have the ability to mitigate around 0.5-2% of current global emissions. However, there is high uncertainty around its potential in the face of future climate scenarios, as well as loss of coastal land due to sea level rise.  

Many restoration efforts have failed in the past, mainly due to not addressing the root causes of degradation.

It is now understood that successful restoration efforts require local communities’ involvement at every stage, economic incentives, and robust frameworks for implementing and assessing these ecosystems.

Most importantly, reducing human activities in these areas can aid the recovery of these precious ecosystems.  

We need existing solutions to work together to reduce the adverse effects of the climate crisis.

We must protect what we have, restore what we have lost, and adapt to the circumstances we face.  

If the Ocean thrives, so do we. 

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Seagrasses: More than a Blue Carbon Solution

Why are seagrass meadows so important?

Seagrasses are among the most widespread coastal ecosystems worldwide and range from the tropics to boreal margins of the Ocean.

They are flowering plants that live in shallow waters that can sometimes be seen from space.  

The name seagrass stems from the many species with long and narrow leaves, which grow by rhizome extension and often spread across large “meadows” resembling grassland; many species superficially resemble terrestrial grasses. 

These deep-rooted meadows cover over 300,000km2, roughly the size of Italy, spanning 159 countries and six continents. They do not exist in Antarctica.  

Sometimes referred to as ‘lungs of the sea’, seagrasses play a multi-functional role to both human well-being and marine life, while being a globally significant carbon sink. 

Seagrass Meadow in Clack Reef, Australia. Seagrasses are incredible climate change fighters - Ocean Generation is sharing what makes this unsung ecosystem so special.

Seagrasses are a climate change solution 

According to UNEP, despite occupying just 0.1% of the Ocean floor, seagrasses store up to 18% of the global Oceanic carbon, which is estimated to be 38,000 billion metric tons

What’s more:

– They can store twice the amount of carbon per hectare when compared to terrestrial forests. 

– The carbon is stored almost entirely in the soils, measuring up to four metres deep.

– They can act as a buffer for Ocean acidification, depending on environmental conditions, which benefits calcifying organisms like corals and shellfish. 

But that’s not all!  

How seagrasses support marine life 

Seagrasses are biologically rich and diverse habitats where species come together for many reasons. 

Some organisms – primarily large grazers like manatees, dugongs, green sea turtles and geese – eat the living leaves directly, and seagrass forms a major component of their diets.

For example, an adult dugong eats about 64 to 88 pounds (28 to 40 kg) of seagrass a day, while an adult green sea turtle can eat about 4.5 pounds (2 kg) per day. 

Apart from being a food source, seagrass meadows provide protection for burrowing anemones, bivalve molluscs and burrowing urchins that lie buried in the sand beneath. 

They also act as crucial nursery grounds for species like the European eel. It is estimated that 17 species of coral reef fish spend their entire juvenile life stage solely on seagrass flats. 

Four ways seagrass meadows benefit humans 

There are numerous ways in which seagrasses benefit us outside of their climate change mitigation potential. Benefits include: 

Food Security
They support global fisheries, acting as nursery habitats for commonly consumed species like crustaceans and molluscs.  

Coastal Protection
Seagrasses have an extensive root system that stabilises the sea bed, similar to terrestrial grasses preventing soil erosion. In this way, they protect coastlines from flooding and storm surges. 

Tourism
Whether its swimming with green turtles (Akumal, Mexico) or diving with dugongs (Marsa Alam, Egypt), seagrass meadows are a great place to positively interact with the diverse marine life it hosts.

They are also important for historical heritage, from shipwrecks to submerged ancient cities. 

Disease Control
Seagrasses can control diseases by reducing bacterial pathogens from harming humans, fish, and invertebrates. 

Seagrass along the coast of Spain.

Why are seagrasses threatened? 

According to one report, since 1990, there is a 7% decline in seagrass cover area globally per year, which is equivalent to a football field of seagrass every 30 minutes.  

The main threats to seagrasses are: 

– Climate Change (for example, heat stress through increases in temperature) 
– Pollution (urban, industrial, and agricultural run-off) 
– Coastal Infrastructure Development (incl. dredging) 
– Overfishing (incl. bottom trawling), and  
– Boating Activities 

…but all hope is not lost! 

The role of policy is a crucial top-down approach to restore and protect seagrasses at a broader scale.  

With the widely accepted Global Biodiversity Framework, 30% of coastal and marine ecosystems need to be protected, including blue carbon ecosystems like seagrasses. Although, at present, mangroves and coral reefs are better protected under MPA’s than seagrasses.  

The variety of ecosystem services that seagrasses provide has resulted in increasing knowledge of their value in recent years. However, there are still large knowledge gaps among the general public. 

The best way to protect seagrasses is to understand them within local environments and manage threats effectively.

School of fish swimming near a seagrass meadow in the Ocean.

Restoration Spotlight: Seagrasses in the Eastern Shore of Virginia 

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy have been conducting an extensive seagrass meadow restoration for almost 20 years, creating 3,612 hectares of new seagrass beds.  

To achieve that, the team of researchers and volunteers had to actively plant more than 70 million seeds of eelgrass on a 200-hectare plot just off the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Within 10 years, the seagrasses covered an area that would naturally take over 100 years to grow. The scientists also noted increased water quality, nitrogen storage and carbon sequestration.  

This initiative offers a glimpse into the benefits of resilient seagrass meadows and its importance in addressing climate change.

  

Seagrasses can help us solve our biggest environmental challenges.

They purify water, they protect us from storms, they provide food to hundreds of millions of people, they support rich biodiversity, and they efficiently store carbon.

In light of everything seagrasses do for people and nature, protecting and restoring them is vital.”  


Ronald Jumeau 
Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Ambassador for Climate Change 
Republic of Seychelles 

What can I do to help protect seagrasses? 

  1. Be a considerate tourist –  

Exploring tourist-friendly seagrass meadows can be a great way to develop an appreciation for these wonderful plants and all that they hold. But please don’t pluck them or hurt any marine species when visiting.

  1. Become a citizen scientist –  

Furthering scientific knowledge is not a one-person effort and so, public participation in citizen science projects are a fantastic way to contribute. 

The SeagrassSpotter project has been created by Project Seagrass in association with Cardiff University and Swansea University. Using SeagrassSpotter, you can help locate seagrasses which will be used by scientists for research including the prediction of locations for restoration. 

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Our Impact: The cost of daily Ocean use

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

What is the cost of our daily Ocean activities

What’s there to love about the Ocean 

Many things come to mind: How vast it is, Ocean biodiversity, being able to swim, dive, snorkel, travel and so much more.  

This large body of water helps us stay connected with each other through global trade and passenger routes.

The Ocean also helps us learn about, explore, and enjoy its many offerings through touristic and recreational activities. But this daily Ocean use can also be harmful to the marine environment if we are not careful. 

Recreational boating in the Ocean. In the image, a speedboat cuts across Ocean waves leaving a trail in its wake.

The impacts of tourism on our Ocean  

The issue with “sun, sea, sand” tourism on Ocean biodiversity 

Touristic Ocean activities are mainly experienced through cruising or coastal tourism.

One of the major impacts on the Ocean comes from coastal infrastructure development dedicated to cultivating tourism hotspots: think airports, hotels, or retail shops.  

Effective planning and management are crucial in minimising the impacts on biodiversity. If foregone, the effects are dire: a 15-year unplanned development period at Vlora Bay, Albania resulted in the disappearance of over 50% of seagrass meadows and a huge reduction in macroalgae.  

People enjoying a beach and the blue Ocean waves.

Furthermore, studies continue to show that beaches with extensive tourism are less rich in nutrients and biodiversity, when compared to natural shorelines. This is often the case to appease tourists with what an “ideal” beach might look like.  

Our love for water-based recreational activities impacts marine life 

There is nothing quite like spending some time in the water, whether that may be a pool, a lagoon, a lake, or the mighty Ocean.  

Scuba diving and snorkeling are highly popular activities, and the prime locations are areas with coral reefs.  

Coral reefs  attract large numbers of tourists each year.

Around the world, coral reef tourism is valued at an estimated $36 billion annually.

In terms of visitor numbers, this equates to 70 million tourist trips that would not have happened without the presence of these magnificent reefs.  

Coral reef tourism is valued at $36 billion every year. A scuba diver is reaching out to touch a fish in a coral reef.

Studies have shown that diver interactions can be damaging to the reefs.

This mostly comes down to the risk of breaking or touching the fragile reefs. Better training for the divers and overall management techniques are needed to ensure coral reef tourism is sustainable.  

Other activities that attract visitors include birdwatching, whale watching and recreational boating.

Whale watching is a significant tourist activity, generating about $2.1billion per annum, globally. Millions of people engage in this activity which may benefit conservation efforts through change in attitudes towards marine life and natural environments. Yet, uncontrolled whale watching efforts can disrupt their natural behaviours.  

A whale tail image. The whale's tail is dipping into the Ocean waves.

What are the effects of marine traffic on the Ocean? 

Marine traffic mainly comprises of shipping cargoes and passenger movements. This traffic can impact the Ocean through various forms of pollution (air, water, noise, oil spills) as well as biodiversity losses.  

Passenger traffic has seen an increased interest in cruises – the number of passengers has increased by about 5% per year, with major hotspots being the Caribbean and Mediterranean.  

There is also an increased interest in Antarctic and Arctic tourism. With melting sea ice in the Arctic, new parts of the area open, which is likely to be subjected to more impacts.  

Cruise boat in the Ocean.

New innovations in marine fuels and strict adherence to the codes provided by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are necessary to limit the environmental impacts caused by marine traffic.  

But what if we just limited the traffic? 

Here is an insightful case study…  

Research Spotlight: What happens when we curb marine traffic? 

Chinese white dolphins are not limited to but can be found in the waters near Hong Kong.

Over the last 17 years, their population has decreased by 80% and one of the main culprits is marine traffic. A recent multi-year study found fascinating changes in behaviour of these mammals when left undisturbed.*

Due to COVID-19, cross border passenger ferries between Hong Kong, Macau and China ceased to operate in early 2020.

In the absence of the fast ferries, the dolphins began to actively use the fairways. Researchers at WWF Hong Kong found that dolphins occurred in larger groups and socialised much more. 

WWF HK is now working with other stakeholders to maintain the area as a ferry-free zone. A survey was conducted to document public support for this initiative and the results show that rerouting ferries when the maritime border reopens is the preferred option, even though this means increased fares and longer travelling times. 

Chinese dolphin in the Ocean. The dolphin is pink in colour.

We need to become responsible Ocean users 

It is clear that we can travel and enjoy everything the Ocean has to offer, provided we understand and limit our impacts when indulging in these activities.  

As we seek solutions to aid sustainable reforms within shipping and cruise ships, learning and appreciating the Ocean and marine life is a great start to being more careful tourists, internationally or domestically.  

We have one Ocean and we need to protect it every day. 

*We would like to thank Dr Lindsay Porter, Senior Research Scientist at SEAMAR Hong Kong SAR for providing these invaluable insights.  

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Our Impact: What resources do we extract from the Ocean?

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

Humans have been travelling across the Ocean for many millennia, with fishing being an important ancient practice.

Along with capturing food from the sea, we slowly recognised the Ocean as a valuable source for much more.

What are the impacts of extracting seafood from the Ocean?

Fast forward to present day, we now eat almost twice as much seafood, compared to 50 years ago. 

Offshore oil extraction has not been kind to marine life, with disruptions in the form of noise pollution, habitat destruction, and oil spills. And the Ocean is being glorified as a new frontier for mineral extraction from the seabed.

We’ve benefitted from a great deal of things we’ve extracted from the Ocean. But do we ever give back and allow the Ocean to replenish?

Do we assess the risks before we extract? Let’s take a closer look into some of the resources we want and how removing them impacts our Ocean.

What resources do we extract from the Ocean? Fossil fuels, animals, minerals and plants are all extracted from the Ocean for human use. Ocean Generation is breaking down what the impact of Oceanic resource extraction is.

How much do humans rely on the Ocean for food?

Animal protein from the Ocean provides around 17% of all animal protein consumed. The food we obtain from the Ocean and other water bodies are inextricably linked to many cultural identities.

From national dishes (Example: Senegal (Ceebu jën)) to fishing traditions (Example: in Finland), many coastal communities around the world uphold seafood as a pillar of cultural identity, livelihoods, food security, tradition and connection to the Ocean.

Global seafood production is on the rise

With global production of seafood quadrupling over the last 50 years, it is no surprise that wild catching has become unsustainable and cannot keep up with global demand.

Enter, aquaculture: A process where seafood is farmed, by corporations and farmers alike. There are many variations of aquaculture, depending on the location and type of organism being cultivated.

Is aquaculture the sustainable solution we’ve been looking for?

This booming method overtook seafood production from conventional fisheries by 12.26 million tonnes in 2015. It is important to note that aquaculture includes aquatic plants like seaweed as well.

Seaweed farmer walking along the shoreline with two big bundles of seaweed. Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of resource extraction on the Ocean.

Aquaculture has been touted for its high yields and added nutritional value, but sustainable production requires:

– careful consideration of the surrounding environment, so as to not burden wild species and damage coastal blue carbon ecosystems,

– sustainable supply of aquafeed, i.e., food for the cultured organisms, and

– adequate disease control among the cultivated populations.

Aquaculture supports the livelihood of over 540 million people (in 2014) with 19% being women.

To ensure a stable income and a stable Ocean, there is a need for better guidelines for operational safety and management to ensure healthy fish stocks.

However, food from the Ocean isn’t the only thing we extract…

What resources do we extract from the Ocean?

Drill baby, drill

From the dawn of time, humans have sparked revolutionary leaps through different forms of energy.
Although fire was a major leap in evolutionary standards, we exceeded our capabilities when we realised we could use ancient organic matter as fuel.

The oil and natural gas we extract powers our homes, our cars, manufactures plastic, and much more. Even their by-products are used, for example, tar to build roads.

But the relentless extraction of fossil fuels comes with a hefty price tag. It’s at the cost of our planet – including our Ocean.

How offshore oil and gas extraction effects the Ocean:

– Exploration: Exploring to identify location and size of reserves disrupts sound, harming marine life, small or big. However, nowadays, evolved techniques have drastically minimised their impact.

– Operational: Processes like drilling disrupt the Ocean floor, pollutes the environment (waste, noise) and also increases biodiversity loss.

– Large release of greenhouse gases, heavily contributing to climate change.

A common image that comes to mind when grasping pollution in this context is this: An animal drenched in oil.

Oil spills are a vicious consequence, not always caused by the process of extraction. In fact, the National Research Council estimates the origin as follows:

– 46% naturally seeping into the Ocean
– 37% discharged from operational processes in sea, and land-based sources
– 12% accidental spills from ships, and
– 3% extraction processes

Although the single largest source of oil pollution is natural, ecosystems have adapted to these natural stresses.

However, that is not the case when we spill oil. To tackle human-induced oil spills, progress has been made to better monitor spills and identify affected areas.

Overall, the reduction in fossil fuel extraction and its use will be beneficial to all life on Earth.

The fossil fuel industry has also provided strong learnings for the budding marine renewables industry (MRE).

How the Ocean supports the medical industry:

Did you know that plants and animals from the Ocean have been used to develop medicines for humans?

The Ocean’s incredible biodiversity has become a new frontier for discovering drugs to alleviate many health conditions.

We take antibiotics for many types of bacterial infections, but in recent years, antibiotics have been overused to the point of ineffectiveness, i.e., it has stopped working when attempting to treat serious conditions.

This resistance has pushed scientists to seek out new solutions. Scientists at NOAA have isolated a chemical compound from microorganisms found on sponges and corals that can be used as a helper drug to make antibiotics effective again, under certain circumstances.

Not all innovations are for medicinal purposes. Food supplements like omega 3, macroalgae (like seaweed) for biofuels and beauty products are all examples of ways in which the Ocean provides for us.

Seafood, minerals and fossil fuels. Is this everything the Ocean has to offer? Not even close! We haven’t even touched on technology, or makeup.

Are we including the health of the Ocean in this conversation? Not nearly enough. Let’s take a final look into something new and potentially disastrous…

New “solution,” same ol’ motives

Innovative solutions can lead to incredible human advancements – but it shouldn’t be at the cost of stripping the Ocean seabed.

Our technological revolution has come with a hefty price tag. The price of:

– mineral mining (conflict minerals, slavery, and generally poor working conditions),
– overconsumption (of electronics), and
– huge swathes of electronic waste.

This has resulted in extractive industries looking for new areas to source minerals, specifically, the Ocean.

Where do most minerals we need reside in the Ocean?

The deep sea.

Deep-sea mining is the process of extracting mineral deposits from the seabed. The Ocean is rich in minerals not only required for electronics like the laptop or phone you are reading this blog on, but also for batteries and scaling low-carbon renewable technologies like wind turbines and solar panels.

However, there is growing concern on whether this is a good idea or if we can extract these minerals safely.

We know scarily little about the environmental consequences of stripping the Ocean seabed, but it is clear that this is likely to cause severe disruptions to marine life, deep-sea ecosystems, and global climate regulation.

This complication is further fuelled by questions on economic viability and social acceptance. Despite approval licenses for some exploratory projects, deep-sea mining must not be commercialised without sufficient understanding of the consequences mentioned above.

What can I do about resource extraction in the Ocean?

We rely on the Ocean for so much more than we’ll ever realise. From our breath to our food to our health, we need the Ocean to thrive and there are ways in which we can help restore it.

On Seafood

To combat overfishing, we must generally consume less seafood to sustain fish stocks healthily. It is also wise to use your national food directories to understand what types of creatures are endangered to best avoid eating so that we can reduce the pressure on those populations.

This in combination with the environmental impacts of specific species can be a useful way to mitigate individual impacts. Let’s not forget to support local fishing communities!

On Minerals

Planned obsolescence is a conscious strategy for companies to artificially limit the life of a product. There is no better example of observing this than electronics:

Some of us grew up in households with washing machines and blenders that are older than us, just because it still functions! But nowadays, smartphones are replaced every few years, with some behaviour associated with trendsetting, something that we see in fast fashion.

This, among so many other reasons, is why we produce roughly 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste per year. Unfortunately, formal recycling of these products is limited to 20%.

For further understanding the concept of planned obsolescence, watch the below video. As a solution, we must vouch for the Right to Repair the products we buy, rather than rely on the promises of recycling.

Even with that being said, we must push for better recycling of e-waste, as the precious metals we discard are in limited supply. To put this into perspective, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

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We cannot allow the Ocean to be a kind of scapegoat and maintain the false persona of endlessness.

There is only one Ocean and we must protect it because our life depends on it.

Why is the Ocean so important?

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