When international leaders meet in Indonesia this week to discuss how to address the global ocean crisis, they will gather in a country both blessed and challenged by its elemental relationship with the sea.
Indonesia’s estimated 266 million people, living on nearly a thousand islands, depend on fish and seafood for more than half their animal protein, and 2.8 million households are directly involved in the marine commodity industry.
The archipelago is part of the Coral Triangle, which contains more than three-fourths of the world’s coral species and more than one-third of the global coral reef fish species. The country supplies about 10 percent of global marine commodities, but overfishing and depleting stocks put that trade and Indonesian livelihoods at risk. It has been estimated that Indonesia is also the second largest contributor to marine plastic debris worldwide, after China.
The geography that made Indonesia a historic trading center also makes it vulnerable to sea-level rise, severe storms, earthquakes and tsunamis. And while the waters that surround it go by many names, they are all part of one globe-spanning ocean that is interconnected with the rest of the world.
The interconnected ocean is also an engine of economic growth: ocean-related goods and services amount to about US$2.5 trillion annually, a number expected to double by 2030, making the ocean the seventh largest economy on Earth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).
As host of the Our Ocean conference in Bali, Indonesia has made the fate of the ocean a prime component of its development plans; notably President Joko Widodo’s maritime axis doctrine meant to rebuild the country’s maritime culture while cooperating with other nations to maintain and manage ocean resources.
All of these efforts can support the Ocean Action Agenda 2030, a global approach initiated by World Resources Institute to align work on the ocean and the sustainable development goals (SDG) to foster a New Ocean Economy: A world where sustainable economic development and ocean protection go hand in hand.
This connection is not waiting for some distant future. Right now, we know that the $190 billion global seafood industry depends on healthy fish habitats, while scuba diving, fishing and other tourism boosts coastal economies.
Mangroves are fish factories for the 210 million people who live near them; Indonesia has the world’s largest area of mangrove forests, which sequester five times the carbon per hectare as tropical forests. Coral reefs reduce 97 percent of wave energy, acting as storm barriers. They and other natural barriers save money and reduce erosion and coastal flooding.
Think of it in terms of one animal: a single shark’s value if fished has an estimated value of $108. But its estimated lifetime value to the economy and the ocean ecosystem and the communities that depend on it is over $1 million. To somebody taking the shark out of the water to sell, $108 may seem like a vast sum. What’s needed is the investment infrastructure and communications know-how to make the case for keeping the shark swimming and generating higher revenue streams over a longer period of time.
Knowing the interrelated nature of the ocean and the economy, and the urgent requirement to achieve SDG number 14 — “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” — we need nothing less than a Paris-like moment for the ocean. The forces that converged to bring about the Paris Agreement on climate change must be mobilized to focus on the only ocean we’ll ever have.
This can happen by bringing together leaders from government, business, financial institutions and civil society to catalyze ocean action. This action will address critical ocean issues including ocean plastics, sustainable fisheries, tourism, climate change, marine protected areas, shipping and trade, government and institutions, among other critical concerns.
A new 12-country High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, co-chaired by the Republic of Palau and Norway, aims to address precisely these issues. How to address the critical situation of the ocean today in a manner that enables more prosperity, jobs, food security — and better health for people, marine species and the ocean itself. There are huge opportunities, but they will require a different way of thinking and acting.
Addressing the ocean crisis means getting a better understanding that economic production and ecosystem protection must be mutually supporting, which in turn requires a growing focus on a sustainable ocean economy.
Many of the dire problems the ocean now faces — overfishing, pollution, uncontrolled coastal development, coral reef dieback and some of the severe consequences of a changing climate — are at heart market and governance failures. Done right, however, a new sustainable ocean economy can provide lasting growth and prosperity. Achieving this sustainable economy is critical to realizing the ocean SDG, and will contribute to reaching seven other SDGs.
More than 3 billion people depend on the ocean to survive. Now is the moment to ensure it continues to sustain them and the rest of the planet.
The writer is president and CEO of World Resources Institute.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.