Covid-19, a string of letters and numbers none of us had heard of a few months ago, and yet now almost everyone on the planet has them ingrained on their minds. Livelihoods, families, societies, all have been radically changed in a relatively short space of time. Jobs have been put on hold, schools cancelled, holidays postponed, and entire economies have been stopped in their tracks. While many of us look outside and see fewer cars on the streets and the skies almost devoid of planes, we might think caring about the environment should be the last thing on our minds. It is an issue, of course, but surely Covid-19 is not a detriment to tackling climate change, but an unexpected helper?
Time for blue solutions
Recently I had the distinct pleasure of watching and asking some questions in the 2020 Virtual Ocean Dialogues Event put on by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action. These panels consisted of diverse groups of people coming from many walks of life and specializations, but the overwhelming message I got from all of them was a united agreement that this situation, tragic and devastating as it is, should be seen as an opportunity. This is not the time to let go of the reins and revert to old habits, this is a time for radical and far-sweeping change. Now more than ever it is pivotal to have blue (and green) solutions being discussed in the policy scene. As economies pump billions of dollars into the economy hoping to kick-start the world back into motion it is essential that the way in which we do so is keeping with sustainability goals. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Bainimarama succinctly summarized that our goal should not be to return to the old status quo but rather to use this time to establish, “A sustainable new normal.” Currently only 50% of funds allocated to ocean issues are used to further ocean conservation – the vast majority gets put towards fishing subsidies. This is something that needs to change now. As stimulus packages are being implemented around the world there is no better time to change this than the present. It is vital that these influxes of capital are allocated in such a way that sustainability can be enhanced rather than be put on the back burner.
Preserving our seas is not only vital for the rich and diverse life beneath the waters but billions of people on land and other animals beside. The oceans are quite literally our life force and for too long have we been taking them for granted. The Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurria said, “Life came out of the ocean, so now it is time to give life to the ocean,” and I could not agree more. Covid-19 has given us a fantastic opportunity to put blue solutions at the front of the discussion, for sustainability by no means goes unrewarded. Healthy oceans mean a healthy planet, which ultimately will pay back any investment multiple fold back into economies. Stimulus packages into sustainable ventures such as reef restoration, clean energy plants and research, establishing protected ocean zones and defunding harmful practices such as river damming, provide jobs just as much as unsustainable subsidies would. But unlike unsustainable practices the oceans will pay dividend when they are treated with respect. There have already been several success stories of rivers thought to be driven past any hope of recovery, suddenly springing back to life with salmon runs when dams were removed, and gene diluting fish hatcheries were abolished. What I mean to illustrate here is that solutions to helping our seas do not have to be complex, we don’t need to develop vast amounts of new technology or build vast machines, often times the real solution is letting mother nature back in. Allow the forces that ensured these species’ survival for millions of years before our arrival, to take back control. Support the establishment of protected regions, lobby for the removal of dams, and above all, do everything you can to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.
So, I would like to implore you, to ask you today to not lose sight of ocean conservation during these difficult times. Although many have lost unfathomable amounts during this crisis, perhaps something good can come of it too. If we rally together, we can perhaps take a giant step forward in ensuring a new sustainable future.
Sophie Zweifel – MChem Student at the University of Edinburgh, has been supporting OceanCare for years – thank you!