04 Jun 2020 Story Oceans & seas

Why international cooperation is key to preserving the world’s oceans

Our ocean is connected. Distant areas are linked by currents that transport heat, food, and nutrients essential to life. The smallest microbes and ocean giants, such as whales and sharks, traverse ocean basins on their migratory routes. These movements connect all parts of the ocean, from the deep seas to shallow waters, and from coast to coast.

These connections also extend to land. Mangroves straddle the land and sea boundary, and creatures, such as sea turtles, hatch on the beach before crawling to the ocean. 

Connectivity and impact

While this connectivity enables marine species and the essentials for life to move freely, it also means that the impacts of human activities can have far- and wide-reaching consequences. For instance:

  • Pollution and marine litter not only affect ecosystems where they enter the ocean, but drift around the globe threatening marine life.
  • The destruction and degradation of coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves not only impact the living conditions of habitats and species, but also their ability to provide services to human well-being.
  • Unsustainable harvesting of commercial species can disrupt entire food webs and cause damage to habitats that support human health and livelihoods.
  • Furthermore, human activities on land also influence all ocean areas through rising water temperatures and increasing acidity caused by climate change.

These challenges transcend geographical boundaries and so too must our efforts to prevent, reduce, and mitigate their impacts.

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Cooperation and collaboration

The connectivity of ocean life and the threats it faces requires us to connect on how the oceans are used and managed.  Regional approaches are key in finding solutions to the challenges faced.  

A country operating in isolation cannot properly address all problems affecting its local marine environment. Working with neighbouring countries is essential for many issues, such as tackling pollution, ensuring the sustainability of fishing, or conserving valuable marine life.

Working together is also more effective and efficient, as actions and decisions are taken to collectively advance a common goal. For example, a regional oil spill response system is cheaper to develop and allows for efficient communication between neighbouring countries in the event of a disaster.

Regional seas conventions and action plans

Recognizing the value of a regional approach, the UN Environment Programme launched its Regional Seas Programme in 1974, which covers 18 regions and includes 146 countries. Some regions are administered by UNEP and others are administered independently and have their own legally binding conventions and action plans to guide efforts.

The overarching goal of most regional seas conventions and action plans is to support contracting parties in the protection, conservation and sustainable development of the marine and coastal environment. In each region, the types of policy and management measures implemented are specific to the environmental, economic, and social needs of the contracting parties and their unique marine environment.

Regional seas conventions and action plans provide a framework under which countries can coordinate efforts and policies, share knowledge, expertise, and resources to maximize efficiency, and build long-lasting and meaningful partnerships to deliver a healthy ocean.

Regional frameworks can also support contracting parties to progress towards global ambitions, such as those related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Targets, by ensuring continuity in action. For example, regional coordination means that ecosystems cutting across multiple jurisdictional boundaries can be protected or managed more comprehensively through joint efforts.

Regional seas conventions and action plans also provide a tried and tested mechanism for international cooperation in marine environmental management that could be built upon at the regional level and in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

In the face of global challenges, coordination and cooperation are essential to making a positive impact for people and the planet. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to work together towards a common goal.

Regional seas conventions and action plans offer a blueprint of what can be achieved in ocean management and play a vital role in making this a reality by linking national priorities and delivering regional action and global impact. To date, they continue to demonstrate the immense value of cooperation and coordination between countries and regions to deliver action and ensure the ocean is healthy and diverse for all – now and in the future.