Restoring ocean health benefits all, from humpbacks to humans

Posted on June, 06 2024

Oceans Practice Leader Pepe Clarke outlines key political, economic and legal measures needed to halt and reverse the loss of nature in the ocean. 

Each year, two distinct populations of humpback whales can be found at different times off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. One population spends the northern summer feeding in the Arctic, while the other feeds in the rich polar waters of the Southern Ocean off the Antarctic Peninsula. Both populations travel to warmer waters in the Eastern Tropical Pacific in different months of the year to breed.

These extraordinary annual migrations are a powerful reminder of the interconnected nature of the ocean. From the planet-spanning voyages of great whales to the intricate relationships between species on a coral reef, the ocean is a vibrant, vital and connected tapestry of life. But this tapestry is fraying, torn apart by unrestrained exploitation, pollution and climate change.

On 8 June, World Oceans Day, political leaders, scientists and conservation organizations from around the world will meet in Costa Rica for ‘Immersed in Change’, a high level event on ocean action. This important meeting is intended to build momentum toward the political, economic and legal measures needed to halt and reverse the loss of nature in the ocean, in preparation for the 3rd UN Ocean Conference in France next year. 

Central to the discussions in Costa Rica is the need for timely and effective implementation of three recently adopted international agreements – the UN Global Biodiversity Framework, High Seas Treaty and WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement. If fully implemented, these new policy instruments would represent a new chapter in our relationship with the ocean: by easing fishing pressure, conserving marine habitats and reducing pollution we can reverse nature loss, enhance climate resilience and sustain the livelihoods of coastal communities dependent on the ocean. 

To ensure the long-term health and productivity of wild fish populations, we must redouble our efforts to curb overfishing. With millions of people worldwide dependent on fishing for nutrition and livelihoods, all nations have a stake in ensuring the future health of fish stocks in their own waters and shared international waters. We must overcome persistent political and economic barriers to secure science-based fisheries management, rebuild depleted fish stocks and protect species and habitats impacted by unsustainable fishing practices. 

Technology and innovation have an important role to play in addressing key challenges facing the ocean, and have been identified as a key theme for the conference. By combining satellite technology with artificial intelligence, data platforms like Global Fishing Watch are providing new insights into unsustainable and illegal fishing activities and practical tools to support the management of fisheries and marine protected areas. 

The ocean economy and finance for ocean governance will be on the agenda, and WWF will be active in keeping sustainability at the forefront of those discussions. We know that the ocean presents important economic opportunities, but we must ensure that the pursuit of these opportunities enhances the health, resilience and productivity of marine ecosystems, rather than accelerating their decline. To achieve this, we need robust policy frameworks, increased funding for ocean conservation and action to redirect public and private finance away from activities that harm the marine environment and undermine the livelihoods of coastal communities. 

WWF and our partners seek to play two important roles in these policy discussions. First, we demonstrate through conservation action that solutions are possible. We see every day how communities can create and deliver plans to conserve and restore the marine and coastal resources they depend on. We need to use that evidence to build and sustain political will to invest in scaling-up and accelerating these solutions. Second, we seek to hold leaders accountable for the promises they’ve made. The words in agreements and treaties are heartening, but words alone won’t solve the nature and climate crises wreaking havoc on our ocean. 

WWF is hopeful because we know what’s possible if we act – and we are driven because we know what will happen if we don’t. We will bring this hope and drive to our conversations in Costa Rica. At this time of urgency for the ocean, every action and every choice can either help humanity fulfill our collective promise, or push it further from our grasp. By restoring ocean health, we can set a course for a healthier planet for all life on Earth – from humpbacks to humans.

The High Level Event on Ocean Action: Immersed in Change will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica on 7-8 June 2024.