Wädenswil/New York, 9 June 2017. The United Nations’ five-day conference on marine conservation in New York concluded with a Call for Action. This declaration was agreed upon unanimously by the country representatives, including a range of head of states and ministers, and calls, among other things, for better resource management, waste prevention and a significant reduction of plastic use. The four-page document acknowledges the negative impacts of climate change, overfishing, plastic debris and noise on the world’s oceans. The action plan shall also serve to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals to save the oceans.

Already on the opening day of the conference, UN Secretary General António Guterres left no doubts about the meeting’s challenges: “The sea indeed, belongs to all of us. Improving the health of our oceans is a test for multilateralism, and we cannot afford to fail.” States, but also the private sector and civil society are called upon to commit themselves to concrete, measurable activities. By the end of the conference, more than 1,300 of such commitments have been filed and uploaded on the conference’s website.

For example, Canada pledged to ban microplastic from cosmetic products by mid-2018. The Maldives announced to ban plastic bags on all of its islands, which span a sea area of roughly 100,000 square kilometres. Indonesia proclaimed a “zero plastic policy” by 2018. Gabon announced one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa during the conference. This new marine protected area is to cover 26% of the country’s waters and will thus be larger than Switzerland.

“The world needs positive news and I think the conference results are such good news”, says Sigrid Lüber, president of international marine conservation organisation OceanCare, which holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United, and was represented at the conference by three experts.

“However, before we can make a final judgement, we have to see concrete actions. For example, while everybody is aware of the dangers of marine debris, time is pressing. We can only achieve the goal of reducing the amount of plastic entering the oceans, if everyone makes his or her contribution. Precise action plans by governments, binding reduction plans by the private sector and a shift away from a single use plastic society are critical”, adds Fabienne McLellan, OceanCare spokesperson in New York.

Next year, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will dedicate a whole week to discussing the threats posed by ocean noise from petroleum exploration, military activities and shipping. “An important development”, says Sigrid Lüber, who has been urgently calling for an international approach to solving this problem for 15 years. “There will be an interdisciplinary discussion of this anthropogenic cross-border pollution, and solutions will be presented.” OceanCare had the opportunity to deliver to the conference plenary a joint statement by 25 NGOs on ocean noise including concrete recommendations for action.

Marine conservationists are also worried about ocean noise in European waters. For oil exploration in the sea floor, the petroleum industry is employing airguns that emit explosive sound of up to 260 decibel every 10 seconds for months. The industry wants to exploit ever deeper areas, as in the Southern Adriatic Sea, in the Hellenic Trench off Greece or along the coast of North Africa. However, these sound cannons also jeopardize commercial fish stocks and thus coastal fisheries of these countries.