The integrity of ocean goods and services is at significant risk due to a range of ocean management policy and market failures that leads to fisheries overexploitation, pollution, the introduction of invasive species, habitat loss and ocean acidification. Ninety percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited or overexploited (FAO 2016). Globally, each year, overfishing and unsustainable practices generate economic losses of about US$83 billion (World Bank 2016), generating losses to people’s livelihoods and putting food security at risk. Due to human associated CO2 emissions, the oceans are acidifying rapidly, perhaps faster than ever before, with ocean acidity increasing by 25% since pre-industrial times (Schoo et al. n.d.) and already impacting the functioning and integrity of ocean ecosystems. Under ‘business as usual’ climate change response scenarios, ocean acidification will cost US$1.2 trillion per year by 2100 (SCBD 2014) as ocean acidity increases an additional 250 percent. Coastal hypoxic events are increasing due to nutrient loads to the oceans tripling since preindustrial times. The rapid increase in shipping has accelerated the spread of invasive aquatic species that are often released from ballast water and hulls of ships. Twenty percent of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and are not showing any potential for recovery (UN n.d.). Global coverage of mangroves has been reduced to less than 30 percent of its historical coverage, and since the late 1800s, 29 percent of seagrass habitat has disappeared (Saenger et al 2012). Marine debri is harming marine life and ecosystems worldwide, with an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the oceans each year (UN n.d.).
All those impacts are changing the integrity of ocean ecosystems, generating important economic losses and affecting the livelihoods of people who depend on ocean resources for their survival and well-being. Policy changes are urgently needed to improve the management of our oceans and ensure that our oceans can continue to sustain life on earth.
Weak governance has often been identified as a key root cause for unsustainable use of coastal and ocean ecosystems (IOC/UNESCO et al. 2011). The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 had a special emphasis on oceans which carried through into the ‘Future we want’ and ultimately Sustainable Development Goal 14 to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’ – ‘Life below water’. This brought renewed calls for strengthening ocean governance. SDG14 Target 14c ‘Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of “The Future We Want” covers and points to a wide range of governance needs including multi-level institutional strengthening.
In pursuing effective governance, the importance of working at regional and subregional levels is being increasingly acknowledged (Wright et al. 2017). This recognition has grown out of an increasing awareness that governance arrangements at any level – local, national, subregional, regional and global – are part of a multilevel system in which each level is important and where upward and downward linkages with levels above and below are critical for effective governance (Fanning et al 2007). These concepts are relevant for governance of most issues associated with sustainable development, but are most important for issues relating to coastal and marine ecosystems where the majority of problems are transboundary in nature.
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