Athens, Greece 29 September 2014 - Plastic debris in the ocean, collapsing fish stocks, ocean acidification, and the destruction of carbon rich mangroves, are just some of the topics that will be hotly debated today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, as policymakers and leading scientists convene to form a new roadmap for the conservation and sustainable use of the world's increasingly threatened oceans.
The three day meeting is being held at a time when concern is growing worldwide over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year, according to UNEP research.
This concern is set to intensify when findings from a new report to be published by UNEP today at the Regional Seas Meeting will set out in detail the multi-billion dollar losses that are being incurred by developing country economies as carbon-rich mangroves continue to be lost at rates 3 - 5 times greater than average rates of forest loss.
"The widespread abuse and destruction of our ocean's fragile ecosystems means that we now find ourselves on the brink of overstepping the 'safe operating space' within which irreversible environmental changes to the world's oceans remain avoidable," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"The Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans shoulder a great responsibility to stem this destruction by promoting stricter adherence by states to the existing regime of regional oceans governance."
"I acknowledge the great efforts and achievements of the Conventions and Action Plans and encourage leaders in Athens to revitalise our collective commitment to the oceans - the largest reservoir of biodiversity left on earth and a fundamental resource upon which we all depend," he added.
The three day event will involve a review of 18 Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans that are designed to mitigate the greatest threats and challenges to the future conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas. The global gathering marks the 40th anniversary of the Regional Seas Programme and is seen as a unique opportunity to set in motion the integration of regional seas and oceans governance into the new Sustainable Development Goals. The existing regime of regional oceans governance, established under the Regional Seas Programme, is the world's only legal framework to address the protection of the marine environment at the regional level, and is critical to reversing the rapidly accelerating degradation of the oceans.
During a dedicated session on plastics in the ocean, experts from the regions will take stock of the successes and challenges experienced under the Global Partnership on Marine Litter in stemming flows of plastic waste to the ocean and, based on these, decide upon priority actions to be taken over the next 10 years and beyond.
UNEP will also launch - The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action- which outlines the critical role mangroves play as both mitigators of climate change, and as highly valuable ecosystems that provide goods and services worth billions of dollars to developing country economies.
Other major topics to be tackled at the meeting are captured in the Regional Seas Strategic Directions 2013-2016 which include the issues of: applying an ecosystem approach in the management of the marine and coastal environment; green economy for oceans - decoupling economic growth from environmental pressures in the marine and coastal environment by promoting resource efficiency and productivity; and strengthening national and regional coordination and capacities to contribute to the World Oceans Assessment.
Notes to editors:
Most of the Regional Seas Conventions function through action plans, which are adopted by member governments in order to establish a comprehensive strategy and framework for protecting the environment and promote sustainable development. An action plan outlines the strategy and substance of the programme, based on the region's particular environmental challenges as well as its socio-economic and political situation.