Oceans under threat

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The oceans are still full of life, but they are also sick and it is getting worse every year. Climate change and increasing acidification are contributing to the destruction of corrals reefs in tropical waters all over the world. Harmful practices, like dynamite fishing, are making things even worse. Overfishing is taking a terrible toll nearly everywhere. Almost 90 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.

And the oceans are getting choked by plastic. It is now everywhere in the seas. You can find it even in the most remote places, polluting the waters or littering the beaches. It has become one of the greatest environmental challenges the world is facing. A few days ago the European Parliament approved a law banning a wide-range of single-use plastic items, such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery, by 2021. That is important progress, but clearly not enough. Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem. More than half of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas comes from just five countries in Asia. Therefore, I believe that the recent discussion in the Philippines on how to reduce plastic pollution is very important.

But there are other threats that are less well-known, invasive species for example. Organisms that have been introduced into an area where they aren’t native can have a devastating impact on the ecosystem. You might ask aren’t humans the most invasive species of all? Yes, probably. But even though, we’re also the only species in any position to do anything about it. And that is what the Philippines and Germany, together with some other countries, are now trying to do in a new project. Well, I have to admit the name of this initiative, ‘”GloFouling Partnership,” doesn’t seem very appealing at first glance. But is a very valuable collaboration between the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Development Program and the International Maritime Organization with the participation of 12 lead partnering states, among those our two countries. The objective is to limit the risk invasive species pose for the marine environment, especially those transferred by ships.

One should not underestimate the issue. Marine invasive species can hitchhike on ships or in ballast water in huge numbers and put both ecosystems and economies at risk. And in a time of massive global trade where 45,000 cargo ships move more than 10 billion tons of ballast water worldwide each year, conditions are ripe for invasive species to spread. The result is an increasing number of ocean ecosystems, primarily near shorelines, that are being compromised or wiped out by non-native species. Invasive species that thrive usually do so because their new habitat lacks natural predators to control their population.

It is good news that Germany and the Philippines are working closely together for the protection of global marine environments. Germany is in fact a close partner of the Philippines in the fight against climate change and in the protection of biodiversity. Since several years already these are focal sectors of our official cooperation with the Philippines.

We cannot survive without our oceans which cover more than 70 percent of the planet. The ‘”GloFouling Partnership” is just one useful and valuable step to save the marine environments. But much more has to be done to protect the oceans – and it has to be done now.

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(Gordon Kricke is the Ambassador of Germany.)

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