Philippe Cousteau Jr. gestures while speaking during the International Day of Happiness at the UN on the theme 'Young People in Support of Climate Action' in New York on March 20, 2015. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
It's not too late to save the oceans from destruction, says the grandson of famed French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
AFP sat down with Philippe Cousteau, an environmentalist and oceanographer in his own right, on the eve of World Oceans Day, held on June 8.
The means to saving the oceans are known, he said, and keeping them from destruction is a simple question of political will.
What is the state of the oceans today compared to what your grandfather Jacques Cousteau experienced?
"One can go back and look at footage from the (film) Silent World that he did in the 1950s, diving off the coast of southern France, and you see reefs and abundant fish.
"I've been diving in those same places. And to see the decline in the health in the Mediterranean, I mean much of the Mediterranean today is essentially dead.
"It's shocking in a lifetime. What you saw after WWII was an enormous industrial explosion and population growth around the world that began to really impact these ecosystems.
"The Caribbean has more or less declined, the Florida Keys is a dead zone, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia... I was there just two years ago and I had tears in my eyes.
"The decline is perhaps summed up best in this one statistic: In my lifetime -- I've just turned 40 -- the biodiversity on this planet has declined 50 percent."
Why is it so important to protect the oceans?
"Some people might not care about some animal or fish or something somewhere but what people fail, I think, to recognize enough is that we live in an interconnected system.
"The oceans are under appreciated because they are less visible than on the surface. You know the old saying: Out of sight, out of mind.
"People talk about the rainforests of the Amazon. And they are magnificent and should be protected with every effort that we can create. But the majority of oxygen on Earth doesn't come from rain forests. It comes from the ocean -- from plankton in the ocean.
"We think of rainforests, these diverse, incredibly biodiverse ecosystems and they are, but more diverse than a rain forest is a coral reef. And more than 50 percent of the world's coral reefs disappeared.
"We may lose virtually all the coral reefs on Earth by the end of the century and those coral reefs that are only one percent of the ocean surface support a vast majority of the kinds of food and seafood, that not only feeds over a billion people on Earth, but also employs tens if not hundreds of millions of people."
Is it not too late to change things and what can we do?
"The good news is that we have tools at our disposal, and we know that they work. One of the growing initiatives that is building consensus around the world, is the importance of establishing areas on Earth that are protected.
"There's only about five percent of the oceans that are actually protected. There's a movement growing to protect 30 percent of the oceans by 2030.
"We know that it would cost roughly around $225 billion to protect 30 percent of the ocean.... Some people say 'Oh we can't afford that nonsense,' but it's real.
"We know that it would cost roughly around $225 billion to protect 30 percent of the ocean. $225 billion. That's a fraction of what the global economy has invested to fight the coronavirus. So the money exists... Now we just need the political will... to make it happen...
"The benefit of that investment is estimated to be between $500 and $900 billion... protecting 30 percent of the oceans would result in a 600 percent increase in biomass of seafood.
"That's more jobs, more opportunity for people to feed their families, cheaper and more economic income. So again, protecting the oceans is good for everybody.
"The good news is that what tends to be better for the oceans is better for us, whether we're on the coast or not... the things that we buy and the things that we eat, driving electric cars, when we use public transportation, how we use energy -- that can be better for our health and the oceans as well.
"And that's really powerful -- and I think that's important to remember."
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